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Collateral (Carey Mulligan/David Hare) - Final episode and series review

Collateral

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

DAVID Hare’s complex but utterly enthralling state-of-the-nation drama Collateral proved to be a show with lofty ambition and the intelligence to realise most of it.

Designed to reflect the complex and ever-evolving state of modern Britain, the four-part BBC2 series did just that, posing intelligent questions and offering intriguing insights without presuming to know the answers. As such, it was a drama capable of creating intelligent debate that treated its audience as adults. And it felt all the more satisfying for it.

As the series opened, an immigrant pizza delivery boy was shot dead by a decorated Army soldier. But the ensuing investigation opened a can of worms for everyone involved, thereby enabling Hare to explore issues of immigration, politics, identity, justice, sexual harassment, social conscience and more.

If Collateral sometimes buckled under the weight of its ambition, then it was hardly surprising given the number of issues and characters it consistently juggled. But such was the quality of its main drama, and performances, that it remained gripping, thought-provoking and challenging, if sometimes uncomfortable, viewing.

Two of its main successes came in the form of the two women driving its central story strands: Carey Mulligan’s DI Kip Glaspie and Jeany Spark’s Captain Sandrine Shaw. Both presented formidable female characters.

Mulligan, in particular, came into her own in the final episode, playing intellectual poker with the big boys and almost coming out on top. Her cool demeanour belied a caring individual who wanted nothing more than to do the right thing by the people so often let down by the system.

And yet she could be as cold as ice when it came to dealing with John Heffernan’s arrogant MI5 man Sam Spence, or even buying herself time when being dressed down by her boss for making deals that were way outside of her remit. Mulligan delivered a master-class in high stakes control, remaining unflappable in the face of stacked odds, while also affording audiences enough moments to show that she genuinely cared.

Spark, on the other hand, chronicled her descent into hell in exemplary fashion, and emerged as arguably the tragic heart of the series. Initially appearing as cool and calculated, the series gradually peeled away her layers to reveal a woman falling apart at the seams: suffering from PTSD, harassed by male colleagues, let down by friends and family and – finally – betrayed, to a degree, by her own country.

Her journey never felt like it could end well, given that she was responsible for pulling the trigger on the pizza delivery boy (albeit in the misguided belief he was a terrorist). But Spark played it extremely well. You sympathised with her, which made the final moments between her and Mulligan among the show’s very best.

Alas, it’s worth noting that Collateral, as a show itself, sometimes betrayed Spark, the actress, too. While notable for exposing the harassment that women may well have to endure within the Army, just as they have in Hollywood, the series certainly felt in tune with the Me Too and Time’s Up movements. Unfortunately, however, its decision to include several nude scenes involving Spark stripped her of a certain amount of dignity.

There has to be an onus on filmmakers and TV creators to find a better way of portraying such acts on screen. The nudity was unnecessary, particularly as the impact of her superior, Major Tim Dyson’s predatory actions was sufficiently conveyed. By showing the nudity, you could argue that Collateral undermined its own impact.

Two more of the series weaker elements revolved around John Simm’s rebel MP David Mars and Nicola Walker’s lesbian vicar Jane Oliver, whose presence afforded the opportunity to explore more state-of-the-nation issues with diminished returns.

Simm’s relationship with Billie Piper’s Karen was largely superfluous and detracted from a lot of the main drama, while the insights his presence afforded into the UK political scene (and Labour, in particular) didn’t tell us much more than we already could have suspected. Simm handled his scenes well. But they didn’t add much to the overall picture.

Likewise, the sub-plot involving Walker’s priest, whose own connections to the case afforded the opportunity for some social drama that – again – sadly detracted from the main event.

Where Collateral also excelled was in its depiction of the complexities surrounding the immigration issue, showing the horrors of the immigration experience and the vagaries of both people smuggling and political point scoring (as exemplified by the journey of the Asif sisters). It therefore threw a spotlight on a flawed system that has no obvious path to repair.

Collateral, for all of its over-reaching ambition and stylistic flaws, remained an overall success that kept viewers hooked from beginning to end, while also talking about many of the things it had to say afterwards.