The Responder: Martin Freeman stars as night-shift copper in BBC's gritty new front-line police drama

Former police officer-turned-writer Tony Schumacher brings his experience of the night beat to the small screen in an emotional five-part cop drama.

By Katie Archer Published: 31 January 2022 - 12.09pm
BBC Martin Freeman in police costume as as Chris, a crisis-stricken, morally compromised, unconventional urgent response officer

Line of Duty might be over for another series, but while we begin the agonising wait to find out whether there will be a series seven, BBC One has plenty more police and detective dramas lined up.

One of those we’re most looking forward to is The Responder starring Martin Freeman, which brings an ex-copper’s authentic touch to the writing.

Here’s everything we know so far about the series.

Check out our 7 Questions interview with Martin Freeman

'Early contender for best police drama of the year': Critics respond to The Responder

Martin Freeman in The Responder � 2021 Dancing Ledge Productions

What is The Responder about?

Penned by ex-police officer Tony Schumacher, this is his first original series for television and he’s on familiar ground as he focuses on the emotional extremes of life on the front line of British policing.

The Responder follows urgent response officer Chris Carson on a series of five night shifts on his beat in Liverpool.

But Chris has more than just the job to worry about as his personal life has been hit by crisis and he is morally compromised in his work.

He’s forced to take on rookie partner Rachel, but despite his reluctance they both soon realise that survival in the high-pressure world of night-time crime will hinge on whether they can support or destroy each other.

Martin Freeman said: "Tony Schumacher’s scripts were so unique and honest that I knew very quickly that I wanted to be a part of The Responder and take on the role of Chris. No-one writes like Tony and it has been exhilarating inhabiting the world he has created."

BBC executive producer Mona Qureshi said: “The Responder is a unique take on modern policing, and Tony Schumacher gives us in Chris a heartbreakingly honest portrait of a man coming undone by the pressures around him.”

Who will star in The Responder?

Martin Freeman stars in the lead role of Chris, and will be best known to viewers for his work in The Office, Sherlock, The Hobbit, Fargo and Nativity!

Series writer Schumacher said: “I'm so incredibly fortunate to be writing for a cast as amazing as the one we've assembled for The Responder.

“From legends at the top of their game, to young talents who are legends in waiting, it's a writer's dream come true.”

Martin Freeman's best TV roles: From The Office to Sherlock >

Adelayo Adedayo in The Responder � 2021 Dancing Ledge Productions

Playing Rachel Hargreaves, Carson’s new nightshift partner, is Adelayo Adedayo (Origin, Timewasters). Despite only being in the role for two weeks, the rookie cop has a clear sense of what’s right and wrong and is disgusted that she’s been paired with a man whose attitude towards the job, and life in general, is the polar opposite of hers. But will working with Chris and under the city’s darkness change her? 

THE RESPONDER MYANNA BURING (KATE) & MARTIN FREEMAN (CHRIS) � 2021 Dancing Ledge Productions

Chris’s wife Kate is played my MyAnna Buring (The Witcher, The Salisbury Poisonings). Her marriage plays second fiddle to Chris’s job and their relationship is under serious strain, driving her away as she attempts to deal with her own emotions. 

THE RESPONDER WARREN BROWN � 2021 Dancing Ledge Productions

Warren Brown (Luther, Trigger Point) plays Ray Mullen, the policeman who got Chris demoted. He hates him after uncovering corruption in Chris’s squad and he’s furious that he only got punished with demotion and not dismissal. Now he’s determined to get Chris kicked out of the force for good. 

Warren Brown: 'To be able to make a living doing this is amazing - it’s a bit mad!'

THE RESPONDER EMILY FAIRN (CASEY) � 2021 Dancing Ledge Productions

Emily Fairn (Elicit) plays Casey, a plucky young heroin addict who Chris becomes obsessed with saving. She’s survived everything life’s thrown at her so far, but can she survive the next five nights? 

THE RESPONDER JOSH FINAH (MARCO) � 2021 Dancing Ledge Productions

Marco, played by Josh Finan (Hellboy, Surge), is a young weed seller that Chris uses for information. He’s untrustworthy, but his street smarts are a valuable asset to Chris and Casey. 

THE RESPONDER - IAN HART (CARL) � 2021 Dancing Ledge Productions

Carl Sweeney, played by Ian Hart (Harry Potter, Boardwalk Empire), is Chris’s childhood friend and a local drug dealer who is trying his hardest to look after his family in his own way. 

THE RESPONDER - RITA TUSHINGHAM (JUNE) & MARTIN FREEMAN (CHRIS) � 2021 Dancing Ledge Productions

The Responder also features: Philip S McGuiness (Ian), Mark Womack (Barry), Dave Hart (Phil), Kerrie Hayes (Ellie), Michael Starke (Kevin), Victor McGuire (Trevor), David Bradley (Davey), Phil Barantini (Steve) and Rita Tushingham (June Carson). 

Where is The Responder filmed?

Filming took place in and around the Liverpool City Region in March 2021.

The Responder: Reviews and reaction

The opening episode of The Responder received very positive reviews from both press and public, with many praising Tony Schumacher's sharp scripts and Martin Freeman's performance - and "pitch perfect" Scouse accent - in the lead role of Chris Carson.

The Guardian's Lucy Mangan called the first episode "an absolute dream for viewers" and says of the lead character in her five-star review: "Carson is a man comprising layers of rage, suffering and despair, and Freeman slowly illuminates each one; he will surely win awards for his performance."

Christopher Stevens in the Daily Mail likens writer Tony Schumacher's pithy dialogue to that of the great Raymond Chandler, while Sean O'Grady's review in The Independent declares Freeman "a fine actor ... at his very best when playing the bewildered Everyman on the edge of breakdown" while lamenting the dim lighting of the production: "it's grim, dark stuff: literally so".

Metro's Harry Fletcher praises Freeman for "portraying pain and human decency in the face of adversity while pulling off one of the hardest accents to get right on screen", and Katie Rosseinsky in the Evening Standard calls the show "authentic, propulsive, funny and powerful, already a contender for the best police drama of the year".

Freeman's Scouse accent came in for praise from viewers on social media, in particular from those in Liverpool itself. 

Freeman's hard work on the accent clearly paid off: the actor spent 18 months ahead of filming perfecting the Merseyside brogue. 

"I have spent a lot of time in Liverpool in my life. Talking to people in the city and talking to people and to Tony [Schumacher] was part of it," he told the Liverpool Echo.

"I walked around for a year and a half, occasionally just talking to myself in scouse.

"If I say something, I know when it sounds off. I got very, very exact about that stuff. You have to be because if I don’t do it well, it’s a terrible accent to get wrong.

"There are some accents where you don’t want to be in that city among the inhabitants of that city making a balls-up of it."

Is there a trailer?

Yes, there is. Check out the action and Martin Freeman’s Scouse accent below. 

Will there be a series 2 of The Responder?

The positive reaction to The Responder from viewers and critics alike has raised the question of whether we'll see more of Chris Carson on the streets of Liverpool. And it's a possibility that at least two stars of the show are keen on. 

"Chris is a character I'd like to return to because I'm a sucker for good scripts," Martin Freeman told What to Watch.

"I'll walk anywhere for a good script and we had a great team on this. I love the team, it's beautifully produced and so yeah I would hope to do it again!" 

Co-star Warren Brown would also be interested in continuing Ray Mullen's story if he was given the chance.

"Absolutely! So often you don’t know how something will be received or if they’re wanting to do more series but more and more now when the audience reaction has been great for a show or there’s scope to do more, they will," he told a press gathering.

"There are murmurs but nothing’s set in stone. But they’re fantastic people and to be back up north working with great actors on a great job, I’d love to go back if that happens."

Fortunately for both Freeman and Brown, producer Laurence Bowen has revealed that Tony Schumacher is already working on a second series of The Responder.

"We've started working on scripts for the second series," Bowen told a press event.

"We're thinking about what the storylines will be and what the kind of shape it will be. It's just a real privilege as a producer to tap into something - like a mosquito tapping into an artery - with Tony as the artery! There's a lot more to come I think, so we'd definitely love to do more." 

When is The Responder released?

The Responder began on Monday, January 24 on BBC One, when all episodes were also released onto iPlayer.