Litvinenko Review: David Tennant Stars in Line of Duty With a Russian Twist

Litvinenko on ITV

Indeed, that shrewd, tenacious police work becomes the focus of episode three. And like all good crime dramas, frustration builds as the detectives come up against obstacles and dead ends while solving the case, only in Litvinenko that obstacle is large indeed: the Russian regime itself. 

In fact, we’d recommend hiding any potential nearby missiles while you watch the detectives’ visit to Moscow, as it’s hard to resist throwing something at the telly. The lengths the Russians go to in order to sabotage the investigation are genuinely infuriating, revealed in a cleverly paced sequence of increasing absurdity. First, the arbitrary rules, the disrupted phone signal, then one of the detectives becoming suspiciously ill. But then the interviews of the two suspects finally happen: one ends up being with a tight-lipped man wrapped in bandages who could have been anyone, the next an intense, cleverly written scene like an episode of Line of Duty with hazmat suits.

Litvinenko is already a slick production, but it really comes into its own here. The soundtrack, the cinematography, the lighting, it all emphasises the farce of the investigation, culminating in the almost hammy scene back in the UK when they discover it was all for nothing: the Russians have wiped the interview tapes, the investigation can proceed no further.

Margarita Levieva as Marina Litvinenko

Against these overwhelming odds, it’s Marina Litvinenko’s time to shine in the final episode, which – unlike so many modern dramas – really delivers on all Litvinenko’s early promise. Marina (Margarita Levieva, Revenge) has thus far been a solitary figure conveying her agony silently, stoically, but in her relentlessly determined, extraordinarily brave fight for a public enquiry, she is anything but the passive ‘wife of’ Litvinenko – this is no longer her husband’s story, it’s hers.

Much of the final episode is raw fury, voiced via Marina’s lawyer at the inquest, Ben Emmerson (Stephen Campbell Moore, War of the Worlds). But it’s not just rage at Putin’s corrupt, soulless regime but at the institutions and people in positions of power who enable it – or ‘dance to Putin’s drum’, as Emmerson puts it – here in the UK. These institutions block Marina’s fight for justice in an endless stream of cold, stuffy government buildings for a decade until we see Theresa May do a classic u-turn, at first blocking the inquest, then admitting its justification years later once the verdict is in.

Despite some heavy-handed foreshadowing, an unnecessary hint of romance between Marina and Ben, and a superfluous subplot between DI Hyatt and his wife, Litvinenko is an important, relevant drama – especially when you consider its release comes in the year Putin invaded Ukraine. Seeing Putin himself in on-screen footage, dismissing the accusation he ordered Litvinenko’s murder by childishly claiming he’s ‘not important’ enough to bother with, you have to remind yourself this is the man in charge of the largest country in the world. Once again, truth is stranger than fiction.

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