Maverick Life


Next weekend we’re watching: ‘Crime’, Irvine Welsh’s new murder series

Next weekend we’re watching: ‘Crime’, Irvine Welsh’s new murder series
Cast of "Crime". Image: Courtesy of Britbox

We speak to Dougray Scott, star of the new Scottish series, ‘Crime’, adapted from a novel by the acclaimed writer of Trainspotting, and premiering in South Africa on Britbox on 20 January.

The 1996 black comedy-drama Trainspotting, became an instant cult classic off the back of Irvine Welsh’s unique writing — brazen comedy, shocking and unexpected plots, his unforgiving portrayal of the harsher side of Edinburgh, and of course, the raw Scottish dialect. 

The new Britbox series Crime, adapted from his best-selling novel of the same name, is lacking the Welshian wit one might have hoped for, but basting in the darker side of his distinctive style. 

Ray Lennox (Scottish actor Dougray Scott of Mission: Impossible 2 and Batwoman) is a detective possessed by a seething hatred for “the scum of the earth”. The series opens with a creepy scene of a teenage girl being surreptitiously abducted while on her way to school, overlaid with a cynical narrative about ignorance from Lennox: “The blissfully ignorant would have you believe that monsters are few and far between; that they’re mentally ill or simply sick. There’s a saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Not in my mind, no — the road to hell is paved with ignorance.” 

As we start the interview, Scott emphasises that although Welsh may seem to have a sinister outlook, he’s not nihilistic about his pessimism — like Lennox, he cares a lot. 

“I think he’s very much like Lennox — he’s cynical, but only to make a point. For example, when [Lennox] talks about police work and how he works with some people who could teach career criminals a thing or two about subterfuge, it’s the truth. They seem cynical and sort of like throwaway lines of someone who’s been less than pure about the job, but in actuality, it’s true.  

“What infuriates him is that he’s got to deal with police detectives and people who work in the police force, and he has to fight them, sometimes as much as he has to fight the criminals. And it’s just, you know, it’s energy that is wasted. 

“I think that Irvine Welsh is probably one of the more sensitive writers that I’ve ever read, and that may surprise some people because I think they see him as being a sort of a writer in extremis in terms of his portrayal of characters and, you know, and the society that he chooses to explore. But in actuality, he’s a man who constantly surprises as a writer because you’ll get the brutality of characters and you get the deep dark humour.” 

One sympathises with Lennox’s anger, but his passion for his job has surpassed the point of relatability and descended into obsession. Lennox is convinced that the missing girl was kidnapped by a notorious serial killer known as Mr Confectioner, even though he was caught and imprisoned years ago. 

Crime takes on qualities of a psychological thriller, as it becomes unclear whether Lennox is a brilliant detective with a keen eye for conspiracy, or rather, deluded by grief and anger. So while he and his new partner Amanda (Joanna Vanderham of Warrior and Legends of Tomorrow) are focused on solving the mystery of the missing girl, the audience is equally focused on solving the mystery that is Lennox.

Dougray Scott as Ray Lennox and Joanna Vanderham
as Amanda Drummond. Image: courtesy of Britbox.

Ray Portrait: Dougray Scott as Ray Lennox. Image: courtesy of Britbox.

As the show goes on, there are more and more hints at his troubled past. Even more concerning than his history of addiction is the red-hot anger bubbling just beneath his skin. 

“He’s constantly suppressing fury about what happened in his childhood,” says Scott, “and I think it’s conscious suppression because he only gets to explore it properly throughout the course of his investigation. His mood swings are entirely to do with his frustrations — at the beginning of the story, he’s on a timeframe; you have 48 hours to find a child and the chances are that if you don’t in that time then the child will be dead. 

“He’s on the front foot, Lennox. He’s not one for being relaxed about anything. He has a furious kind of emotional tapestry — it’s all gung ho, it’s got to be now! And he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. 

“It’s kind of mayhem inside his head and he knows that he has to deal with people in a “normal fashion” but sometimes he’s betrayed by what’s going on inside. [The anger] was there all the time. Yeah. Put it this way: it was pretty exhausting playing him.” 

Even while Lennox maintains a cool façade, Scott gives the intimidating impression of a rampart just barely strong enough to withhold terrifying wrath. It’s shown powerfully in a scene juxtaposing his girlfriend’s mild description of him to a friend with his letting loose his frothing demons in the circle of trust at an AA meeting. 

“All I want is oblivion. I want to drink this city dry, I want to snort the entire rainforest of South fucking America, and I just want to tear this place apart and I don’t know how to stop.”

Dougray Scott as Ray Lennox. Image: courtesy of Britbox.

Dougray Scott as Ray Lennox. Image: courtesy of Britbox.

With such a fuming protagonist, Crime could easily have been an extremely depressing show to watch, but even without the youthful cheekiness of Trainspotting, Welsh’s dry Scottish flavour makes even some of the most serious conversations light, palatable and entertaining, partly by virtue of the colourful Scottish dialect which Welsh is famous for. Scott describes how being able to take on an accent and culture he’s so familiar with was liberating. 

“Listen, I’ve spent my entire career, more or less, not being Scottish. And it’s great, and we love to be American, we love to be English, we love to be whatever we’re not, but then the older you get, for me anyway; I find myself really wanting to explore my side of the map, my upbringing really.” 

Although the writing is peppered with all sorts of Scottish words and terms that an international audience might not understand, the series strikes a balance whereby it’s still possible to follow events. Detective series done formulaically can sometimes become quite stiff, but the use of colloquial language in Crime makes the performances more believable. 

“Yeah. I mean, I don’t speak like Ray Lennox [in real life],” says Scott, “because he spent all of his life in Edinburgh and I didn’t, but when I was a kid you wouldn’t understand every second word I said! I’ve heard some South African accents and I’m, like, what? But I love it, it’s a great accent. 

“So I wouldn’t say it’s exaggerated, but that it’s authentic. And my feeling about it, and you could say the same for any South African film, is that the worst thing that you can do when you’re telling a story is to dilute it in any way shape or form. We’ve been brought up with American films all over the world so we’re used to being able to understand that form of English, but the reality is, I’ll stay home and I’ll watch a Scandinavian drama, or Babylon Berlin which is German, you know, and these are with subtitles — people love Squid Games. We’re willing to make the effort to watch these programmes. 

“You have to be brave enough to tell a story authentically because that way it will do the opposite of what people are worried about — that it won’t travel. It will travel! Because it’s authentic and it’s dynamic and because people relate first and foremost to emotion rather than understanding every single word that’s on screen.” 

Still from “Crime”, Season 1 Episode 6. Image: Courtesy of Britbox

Welsh’s novel was set primarily in Miami rather than Edinburgh. Scott speaks about the decision to base the series in Scotland instead. 

“It was purely a practical decision because we found it very hard to get people, to get their heads around a Scottish cop in Miami, but also having flashbacks to Edinburgh. And while they loved the writing and the story, they found it hard to see how their audiences would relate to that. I mean, I strongly disagreed with that because I think it could have been brilliant, but what it did do is it allowed us an opportunity to explore the origin story of Ray Lennox. 

“Really the start of the novel is the end of our TV series. We expanded and really filled out the characters’ stories and especially the women’s. So what we lost in Miami we gained in backstory and how he came to have his breakdown. 

“I think we’re all very proud of it and it’s done very, very well on BritBox. I think we’re probably going to do a second series. Irvine’s written two more novels with that character, so going forward that’s what we will in all likelihood do in a second series. Miami is an option at some point, because that’s an entirely different story, and it’s a brilliant story.”

Image: Jamie Simpson / courtesy of Britbox.

The later episodes are enlivened by a bit of Welsh’s chaotic touch, but for the most part, Crime is more restrained than we might have expected. His influence can still be felt in the offbeat take on the archetype of the tortured detective and his commentary on mental illness and anger. And of course, that trademark Scottish dynamism that pervades even the most subdued and serious of scenes. DM/ ML 

Crime is available in South Africa on Britbox from January 20.
You can contact This Weekend We’re Watching via [email protected]


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