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‘Criminal Record’ Apple TV Review: A Compelling Crime Thriller

From the use of excessive force and poorly vetted officers to red tape and mismanaged funds, law enforcement organizations across the globe have their fair share of problems. Still, one of the main issues with policing is the personal prejudices of those who wield badges, batons or guns. Biases, whether conscious or unconscious, affect how we navigate the world. They even position some in power to see others as disposable and inhuman, agitating the people they’ve sworn to protect. 

Captivating and deeply disturbing, writer/creator Paul Rutman’s Apple TV+ series “Criminal Record” begins on an unassuming night in London. Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Hegarty (Peter Capaldi), moonlighting as a chauffeur, drives a luxury car down the dark streets. Elsewhere in the city, an anonymous, frightened young woman frantically calls Emergency Services from a dark phone booth. Spooked, she quickly tells the operator her boyfriend has been trying to kill her and that he killed an ex-girlfriend years prior, but another man is currently serving a 24-year prison sentence for the crime. Before the operator can get further details, the call drops. 

When Detective Sergeant June Lenker (Cush Jumbo) arrives at her desk the following day, she’s asked to review the tape of the terrified woman. Though she’s apprehensive at first, she cross-references any prisoners who are serving 24 years for murder. After stumbling upon the name Errol Mathis (Tom Moutchi), June begins following a trail of breadcrumbs, leading her right into the office of DCI Hegarty, who spearheaded Errol’s case more than a decade ago.

What happens next is a thrilling and uncomfortable assessment of modern-day racism in the U.K. The series examines detrimental police practices and the lies people tell themselves to justify their bigotry. A towering figure in the East London police force, Hegarty is aloof and above reproach. Annoyed with June for questioning one of his previous cases, he does everything he can to undermine and silence her. Since June is a Black woman in an overwhelmingly white profession, Hegarty uses his influence to ostracize her from her boss and her peers. 

Still, June isn’t one to be deterred. Though he implies that she’s biased against him as a white man, June realizes that Hegarty’s refusal to look toward the past means he’s hiding something unsavory. Deciding to play by the Detective Chief Inspector’s rules, June begins positing herself to get close to him while reaching out to Errol’s lawyer, Sonya Singh (Aysha Kala) and mother, Doris Mathis (Cathy Tyson). She’s determined to learn why a seemingly innocent man would confess to a violent and vicious crime he initially swore he didn’t commit. 

The inconsistencies in Errol’s case and the mystery behind the anonymous phone caller are significant components of this story. But “Criminal Record” is much more than a whodunit. Just as June and the viewer think they’ve figured out some new element or clue, the narrative veers sharply, taking the audience down an entirely new path. Other incidents, including a shooting and a young boy arrested for possession of narcotics, unveil unseen aspects of Hegarty and June’s personalities. While the older detective appears menacing and cold, revelations about his personal life present a much more nuanced human being. A prism of a man, Capaldi’s performance is fascinating. Rife with nastiness and tenderness, the audience doesn’t quite know what to make of Hegarty until the very last scene of the series. 

For her part, Jumbo is stellar as June. Dubbed Meghan Markle by one of Hegarty’s cronies, she’s unapologetic, bold and fearless to the point of putting herself in harm’s way. Her home life is also intriguing, as she navigates the beauty and stickiness of raising a Black son in London while being married to a white man. The U.K. has always boasted a simpering racism that is less conspicuous than the American brand. However, the misogynoir June experiences is so overt and dangerous that the viewer is forced to question her decision to work in her field, while sympathizing with her obsession to uncover the truth. 

Though “Criminal Record” is just eight hours long, it is stuffed full of characters and storylines that could have been overly complex and convoluted, but Rutman and co-directors Jim Loach and Shaun James Grant never drop the ball. Here, all the intricate pieces of the puzzle link and connect in shocking, unexpected ways. Watching June handle overt microaggressions at work is one thing. But, as she toils to link the caller to Errol’s case, she wades through a cesspool of intolerance that has seeped into the police force and the perspectives of Black and brown immigrants who live under the terror of white supremacy and constant othering. 

As compelling as “Criminal Record” is, it’s also disconcerting. Episode 7, titled “The Sixty-Twos,” opens in the weeks before and following the murder of Errol’s long-term girlfriend. Though extremely hard to watch, the viewer sees how Hegarty and his team worked the case, and how quickly people can be cast aside as inconveniences when they don’t fit in the narratives others bestow upon them. 

“Criminal Record” is a thrilling exploration of our preconceived notions, the human obsession with power and legacy and what we’re willing to do to cling to the narratives we’ve created about other people and the world around us. At the end of the series, Hegarty ponders, “Who knows what any of us are capable of on any given day?” After all, everyone has secrets; everyone is hiding something.

The first two episodes of “Criminal Record” premiere Jan. 10 on Apple TV+ with new episodes dropping weekly on Wednesdays.

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