Award-winning playwright David Hare’s first foray into a television drama series began this week with an impressive cast. Sir David was knighted in 1998 for services to the theatre, namely a string of West End and Broadway successes. He has received Oscar nominations for his work in films (including his adaptation for the excellent 2002 movie “The Hours”) and enjoyed a lengthy career in television with films and plays which began back in 1978. His “breakthrough” play “Slag” was first performed at The Royal Court in 1970. What we have here is a heavyweight, influential writer but would these skills transfer to a modern-day police drama shown over a period of four weeks? I think those members of the audience who knew of Hare’s work would have viewed this with extremely high expectations. Those who knew he is married to French fashion designer might have expected something rather stylish along the lines of “The Night Manager” or “McMafia” but probably the majority who found themselves watching at 9pm on Monday evening were just after their dose of police procedural drama. I’m not sure who would have ended up at the end of the first episode the most satisfied.
Carey Mulligan in “Collateral”
Central character DI Kip Glaspie is played by Carey Mulligan, who I recently watched doing impressive work in “Mudbound” (2017) and whose 2015 turn in “Suffragette” is currently languishing on my Sky Planner. We find out that Glaspie was once a champion pole vaulter for reasons which are not clear but any potential vaulting through a suspect’s open window seems unlikely as she is also pregnant. (I don’t think it’s that kind of production anyway, but it did suggest some thrilling action sequences in my head when another character mentioned it!)
A pizza delivery man is gunned down on the streets of London just after delivering a pizza to harassed mum (Billie Piper) who, inexplicably, ends up throwing the uneaten pizza into a corner of a room. Piper’s character is edgy and distracted and is the ex-wife of local MP played by John Simm (who was also in equally high profile ITV drama “Trauma” this week, which I chose not to watch). Simm’s character was fleshed out in a bedroom scene with recent girlfriend played by Kim Medcalf (a former Sam Mitchell on “Eastenders”) in a scene which oddly seemed to suffer from some really heavy-handed dialogue in what I believe had the intention of illustrating him as a man who puts politics above people. Also in the mix is the always value for money, Nicola Walker, fast becoming a staple of all television drama, who is playing a lesbian vicar with a secret which suggest Simm’s character is not as exactly above board as he would like to make out.
Billie Piper and John Simm
The dead pizza delivery man turns out to be an illegal immigrant living with family members in a lock-up garage which instantly adds political weight to the drama. By the end of the episode the killer but not the motive is revealed. With Ben Miles and Saskia Reeves also in the cast I don’t doubt that we will be seeing strong performances but on the evidence of this first episode I’m not sure if the writing feels natural enough for this kind of production. I found the superbly written “Happy Valley” and “Scott and Bailey” coming to mind. Here there were a few times I felt the lines jarring on me. It might be Hare’s deliberate intention to unsettle us as this is obviously going to be much more than a tale of a killing on a South London street but it is not clear exactly where it is going yet.
Sir David Hare
I suspect that like BBC 1’s “McMafia” which shed a lot of viewers (although I stuck with it without being totally sure why) a number who watched the first episode may not be back for more despite the cast and obviously high production values. I’ll give Episode 2 a go but most confess there was nothing in this episode which really lodged in my mind. Often when I sit down to write a review I can get writing with what has stayed with me. Here I had to flick through the programme again just to remind me what had gone on – and I’m not sure if that is a positive sign.
Collateral is on BBC2 on Monday’s at 9.00. The first episode is available on the BBC I-Player. Internationally, it has been picked up for inclusion on Netflix.