Ben Aldridge plays gay DI in ‘The Long Call’

Monday: The Long Call; (ITV, 9pm)

Sunday, 24th October 2021, 5:00 pm

This superb crime drama, airing from Monday to Thursday and adapted from the novel by Ann Cleeves, follows DI Matthew Venn who, along with his husband, returns to North Devon where he grew up to spend time with his dying father.

His decision to move back to his old stomping ground puts him on a collision course with his devout mother (Juliet Stephenson), a member of fundamentalist Christian community the Barum Brethren.

She has never been able to accept his sexuality, while Matthew, unable to reconcile being gay with his faith, left home at the age of 19.

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DI Matthew Venn and Jonathan Roberts

Unfortunately, on the day of the funeral, a mysterious man who was new to the town is murdered and it soon emerges that the victim was drawn to the same church Matthew grew up in.

It’s not long before a tangle of dark secrets begins to emerge, pulling Matthew back into the strange, compelling Brethren community.

For Ben Aldridge, playing Venn was a little like art imitating life. He grew up in Devon and says: “We used to go on day trips to North Devon when I was younger and I spent some summers surfing on the beaches there. Once I knew I was playing Matthew, my parents and I drove up there for the day, visiting the locations in the novel – Barnstaple, Ilfracombe, Crow Point. When we eventually filmed the opening scenes at Crow Point, my mum and dad came to the set; it was a little full-circle moment.”

Even the religion at the heart of the drama echoed his own experiences, as he explains: “The Long Call is partly about the collision between the modern world and a strict religious group, the fictionalised Barum Brethren. I was raised as an evangelical Christian and before that, my parents and grandparents had themselves been devout members of the Brethren. Both my grandfathers were Elders in their respective churches.

“My parents moved away from that particular denomination when they met, however the memories lived on in my wider family, as did some of the culture. I was able to use that knowledge and my own experience growing up in the evangelical movement in relation to Matthew. Parts of it were extremely similar: there were so many corresponding conversations and coincidences.”

As if that wasn’t enough to make him tailor-made for the series, then the “liberating” experience of playing a gay main character was, says Ben. “I’ve been wanting to play a character whose sexuality and emotional inner world is similar to my own and this felt like the right project to do so.”

It was a similar story for ex-Doctor Who star Pearl Mackie, who plays DS Jen Rafferty, and says: “We were able to have some lovely discussions and to share our experiences – Ben about his journey to being a proud gay man and me about coming out as bisexual. It brought us even closer together and we both felt really ‘seen’ by each other and by the drama and by the team making it, including director Lee Haven Jones, who is also gay.

“As members of the LGBTQ+ community, we were also both absolutely delighted to be part of a mainstream drama that was focusing on a gay man at the centre of a detective thriller. In this case, too, Matthew has a husband, and that relationship is portrayed in a beautiful and loving way. It feels as though it’s 100% time for us finally to be telling these ground-breaking stories.”

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