BritBox's Police Procedural 'Granite Harbour' Has Grit, But Lacks Polish

Picture shows: Romario Simpson as Davis Lindo in front of one of Aberdeen's granite masterpieces.

Romario Simpson in "Granite Harbour" Season 1

(Photo: Courtesy of Britbox)

BritBox’s new police procedural Granite Harbour is a BBC–Scottish production that originated with Adriel Leff (Moving On) and former Derbyshire police chief Kul Muhay. Directed by Gary Williams, and written by Leff, Sarah Deane, and Tara Hepburn, it premiered last December in the U.K, and despite inevitable comparisons with Shetland (tight-knit police department, great setting) was well received. If anything, the series seems to have more in common with Karen Pirie (2022) sharing some familiar tropes –– an urban setting, a fish-out-of-water original thinker, and a crime inspired by revenge, greed, and jealousy.

There’s a lot to like about the series, but it’s damaged by uneven pacing and wobbly characterizations. Main character Davis Lindo (Romario Simpson) is likable and complex, and his growing friendship with DS Lara “Bart” Bartlett (Hannah Donaldson) is well drawn. The series looks gorgeous. The grace of ancient granite buildings, the wide skies and piercing light of northern Scotland, and the beauty of sea and shore are all breathtaking. As Bart says:

A lot of people come [to Aberdeen], all they see is the granite, the grayness. They don’t really look, or listen, or feel the city. They’re not interested in scratching below the surface or getting under the skin of it. All they want to know is what they can take, what the city can give them. And it is a good place with good people. I know we don’t get to see a lot of that, not in the job. But it’s there, that goodness.

The series opens with the arrival of Royal Military Police veteran Lance Corporal Davis Lindo in Aberdeen, full of enthusiasm for a new chapter after a decade in the military police. He’s from Jamaica, where his father is a high-ranking police officer and creator of the DUO Commonality Scheme which trains Commonwealth soldiers for positions in the UK emergency services. He doesn’t talk much about his service or his father (he has issues). While he has relevant experience, he’s expected to knuckle down and take any amount of abuse from his colleagues, just like any other rookie.

There are certainly enough suggestions that Davis, despite his genial appearance, is one tough cookie whose service included a term in Kabul where he was seriously wounded. But let’s get to the murder. As Davis wanders around town, bemused by its grayness and chilly weather, he comes upon a public meeting that celebrates the merger of the town’s homegrown oil company Coburn Gas and Oil (CGO), with a Norwegian green company, Zephel Renewables, led by Karolina Andersson (Katia Winter). Feelings are mixed, with many unhappy that the rigs will be shut down, even though viable oil supplies remain.

As CEO Clellan Coburn (Ron Danachie) presents his plans he’s interrupted by a heckler, former employee Rory Dashford (Andrew Still), who storms the stage, and threatens to kill him. Davis sees Clellan scuffle with another man, his brother Shay Coburn (Gary Lewis), Vice President of CGO. Clellan’s body is found the following day, and the cause of death isn’t clear, but Shay has an alibi.

Picture shows: Lara "Bart" Bartlett (Hannah Donaldson), Davis Lindo (Romario Simpson)

Lara "Bart" Bartlett (Hannah Donaldson), Davis Lindo (Romario Simpson).

© BritBox

Davis is thrilled to meet DI Jay Mallick (Bhav Doshi), whose photograph appeared in the DUO brochure. Jay is not pleased; he angrily points out that hard work and not affirmative action programs have achieved his career success. Bart is marginally more friendly, having received much of the same treatment in her early days with the department. Their boss DCI Cora MacMillan (Dawn Steele), is confused by Davis’s excessive enthusiasm and views him with suspicion. He’s supposed to be shadowing Bart, not asking leading questions of murder suspects (brother Shay).

Davis didn’t let his colleagues know he witnessed the fight, so they were surprised when he confronted Shay. But Davis also points out that Shay didn’t have a question about how his brother died, which is unusual. Shay claims he’s too upset to identify his brother’s remains, and his security guard, Ewan MacClure (Ross Anderson), offers to go instead. But the law requires a blood relative to perform the task. Davis bonds with Ewan, one ex-military man to another, something that will become significant later.

Clellan’s will leaves everything to Karolina, disinherited his brother, and left £2m to Isla Breck (Fiona Bell), whose husband died in a rig accident some years ago. Bart and Davis visit the company’s lawyer, where CGO is in limbo, its assets frozen. The agreement was verbal only, with the understanding that the documents would be signed the next day. There is nothing to stop Karolina from backing out, but she’s in no hurry to make changes. She says, “Don’t sell the skin before the bear is shot.” Karolina even checked out the legacy to Isla Breck, curious that someone significant in Clellan’s life was left such a large sum, and found it was all legal. 

Picture shows: Katia Winter as Karolina Andersson

Karolina Andersson (Katia Winter).

© BritBox

Isla Breck now owns a pub frequented by Rory, the former refinery employee who made a public death threat to Clellan. He isn’t the murderer, but neither Isla nor Rory is there when Davis and Bart go to the pub. Davis makes a clumsy attempt to charm information out of barmaid Hannah Coutts (Caroline Deyga), who laughs at him and takes a Polaroid of Bart and Davis for her customer headshot board. This backfires when it’s picked up on social media and implies that Rory is guilty of murder.

Meanwhile, Davis finds Rory at the refinery, chases him down, and arrests him. Rory is terrified. Davis is convinced that the team should look at those in power, not the small fry. Jay ups his game, making vague accusations of Davis running away from trouble during his military career. When Bart and Davis interview Isla, they find that Rory frequently sleeps on her sofa above the pub after getting drunk. She shares video footage of him arriving at the pub the night of Clellan’s murder and leaving the following day, which proves very little.

The next time they visit the pub, Isla goes out to lunch with Karolina, and Davis is sent to stake out the hotel where they are meeting. But Jay warns him to keep his distance, with the result that as Isla leaves, she’s kidnapped by a van driver, and Davis hurls himself into the vehicle to save her. The van crashes –– we’re not sure if it’s an accident, and only Davis is found injured but refused medical treatment. Isla has disappeared.

Picture shows: Shay Coburn (Gary Lewis) and DI Jay Mallick (Bhav Doshi).

Shay Coburn (Gary Lewis) and DI Jay Mallick (Bhav Doshi).

© BritBox

Shay finally agrees to identify his brother, and Cora does her best to get him into an interview room while he’s there. The white van belongs to CGO, but Shay whines that he has nothing to do with company vans. Davis and Bart search Isla’s apartment and find a hidden folder of pictures and press clippings about the death of Isla’s husband. Shay was head of health and safety, but his brother regarded him as an irresponsible liability who didn’t take the business seriously. At this point, the case is not so much being investigated as bludgeoned into incoherence.

Ewan comes to the station to cut a deal, insisting he’ll only talk to “the soldier.” He kidnapped Isla on Shay’s orders as she was blackmailing Clellan. Cora agrees to protect him after he tells them where Shay keeps his burner phone with all the details, but she’s hesitant to act, and Davis tells her she’s making a mistake. Cora fires him as she’s threatened to do all along. But the team visits Shay with a search warrant and finds the phone, of which Shay claims no knowledge. It holds evidence regarding Isla’s kidnapping and, more critically, syncs with his regular phone, opening up lurid details about ... all sorts of nasty things.

Predictably, Davis goes rogue. He visits Rory’s apartment, where Isla is hiding, in pain from injuries from the crash. Davis insists he has a duty of care toward her and calls an ambulance. The police are determined to pick her up from the hospital, but the CCTV reveals she leaves with Ewan. Isla, it turned out, had affairs with both Clellan and Shay. They suspect she was trying to blackmail one or both, although Karolina shows them a clause in the agreement that she wouldn’t expect further money.

Picture shows: The team pose in their office: DS Simone 'Monty' Montrose (Michelle Jaram), Romario Simpson (DS Davis Lindo), Hannah Donaldson, DI Jay Mallick (Bhav Doshi), Dawn Steele (DCI Cora MacMillan).

DS Simone 'Monty' Montrose (Michelle Jaram), Romario Simpson (DS Davis Lindo), Hannah Donaldson, DI Jay Mallick (Bhav Doshi), Dawn Steele (DCI Cora MacMillan).

© BritBox

Meanwhile, Ewan is getting progressively weirder. He talks to Davis and shows him the army crate in which he stores his possessions, the army having represented his true family. He’s now ashamed of his medals but keeps them because “it’s important we acknowledge our pasts if we want to find peace in our future.” Shay starts to lose it when Jay tells him that Clellan disinherited him. He’s shocked and admits he may have possibly killed his brother because he would do anything to stop the signing of the merger, but he’s the one who now feels betrayed. He even tries to push the blame onto Ewan, who made all the arrangements.

Bart stands up to Cora, begging her to reinstate Davis because his hunches all turn out to be accurate; he’s still her partner, and she should stick with him. Davis is concerned because he realizes the extent of Ewan’s fragility. Sure enough, Ewan is out with poor Isla handcuffed in the back of his car, and he’s armed. Risking her job to help Davis, Bart finds him in the graveyard where Isla’s husband is buried. Isla huddles beneath a tree while Ewan, gun in hand, rants on as villains will do. As he talks, Bart creeps up to get Isla to safety, but Ewan hears them and turns the gun on Davis.

Davis, who wears a beaded lama bracelet given to him by his father, raises his wrist, and Ewan drops the gun, suggesting that Davis is under supernatural protection. He’s not quite the hero of the hour –– Cora tells him, “We had your back at all times,” which may be wishful thinking –– and orders him to get in the first round at the pub. He may be staying, but he isn’t quite sure. A pretty woman smiles at him from the bar, and suddenly life improves for Davis, and he smiles back as he accepts a phone call from his father.

All three episodes of Granite Harbour are currently streaming on BritBox.

Janet Mullany

Writer Janet Mullany is from England, drinks a lot of tea, and likes Jane Austen, reading, and gasping in shock at costumes in historical TV dramas. Her household near Washington DC includes two badly-behaved cats about whom she frequently boasts on Facebook.

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