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Suspects - Channel 5's stripped back cop drama: "It's electrifying"

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Suspects is a new kind of cop show.

Channel 5's first original drama in eight years is a no-frills take on the police procedural. The majority of scenes were shot either on location or at a disused building in Bethnal Green serving as police headquarters.

"There were rats, it was cold... this was not glamorous!" insists Fay Ripley, who plays DI Martha Bellamy.

Shot in a stripped-back style by a documentary crew, the entire first series of Suspects came together over six weeks - 10 episodes shot mostly in sequence, with most scenes captured in one or two takes.

Channel 5's 'Suspects'

© Channel 5


"There was a thing of - is this going to work out and not just look like cheap telly?" Ripley admits. "But I think it brings an interesting gritty reality to it that's somewhere between documentary and drama."

But the back-to-basics approach goes further than documentary stylings - Suspects has no traditional script, with the cast improvising their dialogue and movements based on detailed episodic scene-by-scene breakdowns. It was a prospect that Ripley and her co-stars - Damien Molony and Clare-Hope Ashitey - say they found "terrifying but thrilling".

"It was daunting to begin with because none of us had ever done anything like that before," admits Molony - who plays man of action DS Jack Weston. "I mean, I was excited but also quite nervous.

"But looking back, it's difficult to figure out a way to have done it any better. The first scene, you're in the deep end - just piling through scenes - and it's electrifying."

Channel 5's 'Suspects'

© Channel 5


All three of the cast agree that they invested more of their own personalities into their characters than they might have with a traditionally-scripted drama.

"Because you don't have a rigid script, you have to base it on how you would react," explains Ashitey - passionate Detective Constable Charlie Steele. "You don't have time to think.

"I think I called someone a d**k at one point, which I really didn't mean to do! That's definitely been cut, 'cos you can't do that in an interview room!"

Channel 5's 'Suspects'

© Channel 5


The show's improvised, mockumentary style "pumps in the reality" and makes for vivid, gripping television, but Ripley insists that Suspects is no threat to screenwriters: "We're making a procedural cop show accessible in a different way - we're just bringing a bit of reality to it.

"It doesn't mean that everything has to be made this way. I mean, somebody's got to write Downton Abbey - you can't improvise that!"

But for Suspects, it's an approach that works. "It's entirely in the moment," Molony concludes. "And I think that's what make it so exciting to watch."

Suspects begins Wednesday, February 12 at 10pm on Channel 5.

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