Help! I am in Love With John Rebus
Every now and then, I am simply drawn to get into something irrevocably and completely fucking Scottish.
It’s not often that I feel the need for this kind of pop-culture patriotism, but when I do, I go hard. And this time, my dear, sweet loves, I have something to share with you.
About three things, I was absolutely positive. First, John Rebus was a Hibbie. Second, there was a part of him – and I didn’t know how potent that part might be – that thirsted for a half-pint of Heavy. And third, I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him.
For those not in the know, John Rebus is a fictional detective, created by Ian Rankin for his addictively brilliant series of Tartan Noir novels set in Edinburgh; if you think of the prototypical hard-drinking, married-to-the-job detective, you’re thinking of Rebus, pretty much. The adaptation I have been bingeing on, though there have been a few, is specifically the Ken Stott version that ran from 2006-2007, in about ten feature-length episodes.
It’s not often I fall in love with a show quite like I have fallen in love with this adaptation of the Rebus books, but God, it’s just hitting the spot. The episodes are dripping with the trappings of crime drama of the mid-noughties – the thunderingly awful soundtrack, shouty sound effects, and slightly convoluted mysteries that keep on adding extra layers just past the point where they need to.
But what really makes these episodes pop for me is the Scottishness. And it’s not just the familiarity of them, though that’s surely part of it – the joy of watching TV and being able to go “Been there. Been there. That’s just down the road from my brother’s old flat. Been there. Been th-” every time the scene changes is not to be overstated – but that wry, dry wit and knowingness that drips from the whole affair. From the supporting cast (especially Jennifer Black as head of Rebus’ department, bringing equal parts “dissapointed primary school teacher” and “incredible people manager” as she delivers such excellent asides as “Your coat’s on a shoogly peg, Rebus”) to the victims and villains of each episode, everything is steeped in that comfortable Scottish sharpness that feels to me like sinking into a nice warm bath at the end of a long week. And, even amongst the terrible nonsense of the crime drama style at the time, it settles in to some genuinely gorgeous direction and remarkably compelling character work, with some genuinely bloody brilliant one-off turns from great Scottish actors who you will certainly have already seen in Outlander at some point.
And then, of course, there is Ken Stott as Rebus himself. It’s been a while since I’ve been blessed with a performance like this, where an actor is so clearly and deeply totally in control of every aspect of this character and how he interacts with the world. With the wit of a particularly bitchy drag queen wrapped up in the body of your favourite secret-alcoholic-pub-regular, he balances the dry humour, blunt attitude, and occasional moments of incredible depth in this perfect blend that I’m addicted. Each episode with him at the helm (John Hannah originally played the character in the first series of this adaptation) is something to be savoured, a mix of noir detective and irritable school marm. He has entranced me, body and soul, with his decent patter and shiny suits.
Come join me in the shrine to Ken Stott’s Rebus – if you’ve got a soft spot for all things Scottish and a love for the daft crime drama, I cannot recommend this enough. I’ll see you at the weekly sermon of Ian Rankin chapters on Tuesday. You bring the Deuchars IPA.
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(header image via Radio Times)