With Jed Mercurio and Vicky McClure reunited for bomb-disposal thriller Trigger Point, Matthew Bell laps up the suspense.
Jed Mercurio is bringing his trademark high-octane thrills to ITV with a new drama set in a bomb disposal squad. Sunday-night viewers are currently being subjected to big bangs and nerve-shredding tension as a bombing campaign terrorises London.
Trigger Point stars Vicky McClure as an “expo”, a bomb disposal officer who takes the “long walk” towards a suspect device before attempting to defuse it.
The six-part thriller began its run late last month and marks the TV debut of writer Daniel Brierley. He has benefitted from a bursary scheme funded by the industry body ScreenSkills, which paired him with an industry mentor.
Jed Mercurio, the creator and writer of Line of Duty, is no ordinary mentor. “Daniel did all the writing – he would generate all the storylines and write the drafts of the script, then I would give my feedback, but I wouldn’t interfere too much,” recalls Mercurio. His production company, HTM Television, which he set up with Hat Trick boss Jimmy Mulville, made Trigger Point.
“We talked about the challenges of getting through the story and dealing with the basics of what people expect from a thriller, which is jeopardy, mystery and twists and turns. The art is in making the twists as unexpected as possible,” explains Mercurio, who is also an executive producer on the series.
The inspiration for Trigger Point was an “amazing” BBC documentary, Bomb Squad Men: The Long Walk, about bomb disposal officers who served in 1970s Northern Ireland. Brierley came across it one sleepless night and thought; “That is a really interesting jumping off point for drama – to look at the psychology of people walking towards danger, rather than away from it.”
Mercurio adds, approvingly: “Putting your heroes in harm’s way relentlessly is an incredibly powerful vehicle for putting the audience on the edge of their seats.”
McClure, who plays expo Lana Washington, was drawn to the role by “the subject matter… it was something I knew very little about”, plus the opportunity to support a new writer and work once more with Mercurio, a “good friend” after six series of Line of Duty.
“It was fantastic working with Vicky. It always is, and particularly without Martin [Compston] and Adrian [Dunbar] getting in the way and spoiling it – that was the highlight definitely for me,” jokes Mercurio. “Vicky’s the natural leader and the real talent in that group… for once, she wasn’t being held back – she really blossomed, I thought.”
McClure shrugs off comparisons with Mercurio’s hugely successful show. “I’m not concerned… about taking roles that might feel in a similar world,” she says. “I look at Lana and Kate [in Line of Duty] and I don’t see them as the same people at all.… They’re both very strong women, for sure, and very brave and committed, but that’s the kind of role I love to take.”
She adds: “People love Line of Duty so, if there is any comparison, it might not be a bad thing.”
Mercurio’s shows are known for the short screen lives of even their biggest stars. Keeley Hawes’ home secretary didn’t last long in Bodyguard and Daniel Mays’ troubled copper didn’t make it beyond the second episode of one Line of Duty series.
Adrian Lester, who plays Washington’s colleague Joel Nutkins, didn’t make it to the end of the first episode, killed by a terrorist bomb. Lester had been intriguingly non-committal pre-transmission on whether any bomb squad officers were going to be killed off, saying: “Daniel’s script keeps the audience on their toes … you definitely have that feeling that something bad could happen to somebody at some point.” It did.
Trigger Point has been meticulously researched. Mercurio passed on the number of an expo he’d worked with on Bodyguard, and Brierley spent time with a squad at a secret base in London, “getting to know what makes them tick” and learning about the technical elements of bomb disposal. “There’s this juxtaposition between extreme boredom and intense action – they have to go from nought to 60 in seconds.… These guys aren’t called out of their office unless there is extreme danger,” he says.
A couple of experts were on set to advise the actors. “There was always something we needed to check,” recalls McClure. “That long walk [towards a device] is very personal.… You have to get past the fear and walk towards the device and do your job – the calmer you are, the calmer you can deal with it, in terms of having a steady hand and dealing with a very delicate device.”
Trigger Point, though, is drama, not documentary, which means there is “artistic licence to ramp up [the action]”, adds McClure. Big explosions and a bombing campaign on a capital city are normally the territory of feature films, and that’s a lot to do with budget,” admits producer Julia Stannard. “Delivering on the scale and the ambition of the piece but with a TV budget was challenging. Audiences have certain expectations, which you have to meet.
“It’s all about deciding where you need to spend the money to make things look good – and working with experts, employing the right special effects people.”
Trigger Point will not be available as a box set on the ITV Hub until the series concludes, forcing audiences to wait for their adrenaline rush as the series plays out weekly. This is old-school telly and Mercurio – whose shows Line of Duty and Bodyguard were similarly binge-proof – approves.
“There’s still a big section of the audience who love the experience of appointment-to-view TV. If something becomes a talking point and people have lots of theories about what’s going to happen next and who’s behind some kind of mystery… then it all adds to the shared experience of television viewing,” he says.
“It’s almost like we’re turning the clock back to an earlier age of television and there are still plenty of people who appreciate that.
“If this series goes down well with the audience, we’d love to do more. It’s set up to be a returner and we know how much audiences love thrillers – they’re a big part of people’s TV experience now.”
Photo credit: ITV