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Twisted Path to Justice

Two cops square off over an old murder case that may have ended with a false conviction, in this tense, timely crime thriller

Cush Jumbo and Peter Capaldi love being in conflict with one another. “It’s great!” exclaims the Scottish Doctor Who actor. “As any actor will tell you, those are the most fun things, to say what you’d never say in real life, be unpleasant, dark and horrible to Cush — or anyone.” His co-star joyfully concurs. “It was an absolute pleasure,” says the English Good Fight alum. “And, as much as we laugh and joke together, when you work on shows that deal with darker themes, you can’t work on scenes like that without taking care of each other. If you do that with people that aren’t taking care of you, it can be quite damaging. So, I couldn’t have done my scenes without Peter.”

Apple TV+

It’s a good thing these two enjoy a good standoff, because in the new crime thriller Criminal Record their characters are far from seeing eye to eye. Jumbo plays Detective Sergeant June Lenker, an up-and-comer on the police force who starts looking into an old murder case after an anonymous distress call casts doubt on whether the convict currently serving time for the crime actually did the deed. But when she brings the case up to veteran Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Hegarty, played by Capaldi, June bumps up against Hegarty’s unwavering desire to protect his own legacy, whatever the cost. “This show is a duel, it’s not a double act,” says creator Paul Rutman. “And, as the show goes on, it’s their relationship that I hope is exciting. The fact that — even though they kind of hate each other — there’s an inch-by-inch feeling that, ‘Maybe we have a lot more in common with each other than we realize.’ In a way, it’s a relationship drama, I suppose.”

Rutman was never wracking his brain for a unique approach to a well-travelled genre, instead allowing his characters to set this murder mystery apart from others. “When did you last watch a great show and think, ‘I love this show because it’s unique?’ I think if the show is true to itself and its own, and the characters feel credible, surprising and compelling, that’s what draws you forward,” he says. In collaborating with Capaldi and Jumbo, who both served as executive producers on the series, Rutman discovered even more depth to his characters than he previously imagined. “What they both brought was a feeling of, ‘This is the reality of working with this other person.’ They were quite interested in the idea of professional respect,” says Rutman. “They stepped away from the idea that there was some sort of easy television chemistry. The caginess that they both brought to the performances made it less obvious and more interesting.”

Apple TV+

To Jumbo, Criminal Record is also a reflection on a big city and the changes it goes through. “I’m a Londoner, born and bred. I’ve watched it change,” she says. “I think this is a crime show where you get to, generationally, see different cultures smash into each other. What are the repercussions of things that happen 30 or 40 years before? What happens when that stuff resurfaces? How does trauma get inherited? All of that makes it very different — it’s not from one perspective.” And while most crime dramas have clear demarcations between good guys and bad, this is an example of no one’s motives being clear, even those that seem nefarious. “It explores the effect of dark events on the characters,” says Capaldi. “If you have been a detective for as long as my character has been, what does that make you? What scars do you carry? What ghosts haunt you? And how do you conduct your day-to-day life? My character is quite mysterious, because he doesn’t really give a great deal away, but there’s a lot going on.”

Apple TV+

With both actors being attached to the project from the very beginning, they each had a say in what they were interested in delving into. “I said to Paul that I wanted to see a woman who was career-driven, a mother and in a relationship, and was failing horribly, because I’m tired of seeing this structure apparently be super-easy,” says Jumbo, adding with a chuckle: “I also said, ‘I want to see somebody who makes decisions before she thinks about the consequences.’ I like being physical in the acting that I do, so I was like, ‘Oh, just beat me up or something.’ Afterwards, I might have slightly regretted it.” But, more importantly, Jumbo was excited for her character to remain on her toes until the final minutes of this complex pulse-pounder. “Viewers are asked to get to the end and make a judgment,” she says. “It ends on a note that we hope is transmitted all the way through, which is: ‘What is good and what is bad?’ Because life just isn’t that clear-cut.”

Criminal Record, streaming Wednesday, Apple TV+

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