Top notch thriller The Night Caller comes to a thrilling conclusion

Wednesday: ​The Night Caller (Channel 5, 9pm)
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​The top-notch thriller starring Robert Glenister arrives at its thrilling conclusion tonight.

Channel 5 really have been bucking their reputation for soapy melodramas of late (if you ignore their regular 2.15pm Lifetime made-for-TV movies), with this just the latest in a string of highly effective and well-cast limited series.

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The Inheritance (Gaynor Faye, Jemima Rooper), Finders Keepers (Neil Morrissey, James Buckley), and two terrific turns by the versatile Jason Watkins in Coma and The Catch are some other recent examples, but this one – which also features Sean Pertwee, Suzanne Packer and Stephen Walters – is among the most tense of all.

Sean Pertwee stars as Lawrence in The Night CallerSean Pertwee stars as Lawrence in The Night Caller
Sean Pertwee stars as Lawrence in The Night Caller

For the uninitiated (don’t worry, all three previous episodes are available online and on My5), the series follows dour cabbie Tony Conroy (Glenister), who spends his nights driving and listening to talk radio show NightTalk, hosted by controversial figure Lawrence Brightway (Pertwee).

Lawrence’s show becomes a lifeline for Tony, who begins calling in more frequently – becoming a ‘friend of the show’. However outside of his favourite radio broadcasts, Tony is increasingly isolated and desperate.

He begins buying into Lawrence’s supposed world view in more and bigger ways, adopting an ideology that ultimately pushes everyone away from him.

Except Lawrence and other callers to NightTalk.

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Eventually Tony is essentially radicalised, driving him to commit a very dire act indeed. He feels at first remorseful – even repulsed by what he has done. Until he hears the discourse on NightTalk about the incident, in which his actions are not only explained away by an angry and radicalised listenership, but justified and even lauded.

He feels emboldened – until one fine evening his hero actually steps into his cab. He is aghast to learn that Lawrence Brightway is not all he purports to be. His on-air persona is just that, a persona – and Tony feels betrayed.

It’s a fascinating character study, which feels like the bleak post Vietnam-era Taxi Driver and the near-future of Black Mirror have found a meeting point in the here and now. The two lead actors portray their characters – both of whom would be easy to simply revile – with a level of nuance and understanding that is crucial at this time when the news is full of headlines evoking a “culture war”.

It feels as though society is divided as never before, especially online (and on belligerent talk radio programmes), where it is easy to forget that the people who oppose one’s views are in fact people at all.

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While this series does not claim to have any real answers – it is mere entertainment after all – it does give the viewer moments to pause and think. None of these moments, crucially, feel forced or proselytising.

As we rejoin the action this evening, a vengeful Tony creeps into Lawrence’s house to face him. He feels betrayed, wronged, confused – his terrible act was in part inspired, and wholly justified after the fact, by a man who essentially doesn’t exist.

At first, Lawrence naturally thinks that he is being burgled, until he recognises the intruder as the cabbie who picked him up earlier that night.

He heads for the kitchen to call the police, but there’s a scuffle.

Tony grabs a kitchen knife, and Lawrence is forced to do what he says…

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