movie film review | chris tookey

Collateral (TV)

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  Collateral (TV) Review
Tookey's Rating
1 /10
Average Rating
5.00 /10
Carey Mulligan, John Simm, Hayley Squires
Full Cast >

Directed by: S.J. Clarkson
Written by: David Hare

Released: 2017
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: UK
Length: 0

Collateral is about the seemingly senseless murder on a South London street of a young immigrant delivering pizza. It’s made clear pretty early on that he isn’t a terrorist; and that the pizzas he delivers are not poisonous. So we have to work out why he was so cruelly victimised.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Episode 1:

I know one shouldn’t prejudge a series on the basis of one episode, but writer David Hare has a considerable amount of (if I may stoop to using horse-racing parlance) “form”. Besides, it isn’t hard to recognize the mindset behind this four-part series.

As Hare himself wrote in the Radio Times, “The BBC was gratifyingly keen to make a series about immigration and did everything they could to hurry it.” That sounds a little ominous, especially as the series appears to inhabit an alternative universe, in which (a) the way to Stockwell from other parts of South London lies through the Blackwall Tunnel and over a nameless bridge; (b) the Labour Party has swung radically to the right on immigration, which came as a surprise to me, and probably will to members of the hard-left pressure group, Momentum, which has taken over the party in the real world; and (c) senior members of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces are carrying out a “shoot to kill” policy on the streets of London.

Don’t worry that I’m giving anything away, by the way. Sir David makes the last point clear, even hinting that the killer is working on behalf of higher powers when she sends a “Job done” message on her mobile phone. It wouldn’t shock me at all if a thinly disguised Boris Johnson is behind the targeting of immigrants, or that ghastly new Tory minister for defence who likes tarantulas.

With regard to (b), in the world of Collateral Jeremy Corbyn has been replaced as Opposition leader by a toffee-nosed lady (Saskia Reeves), whom one of our heroes, a Labour MP (John Simm), switches off in principled disgust as she pontificates on TV about the necessity of tougher immigration controls. Crikey, if the real Labour Party were doing that, they might actually be electable.

Sir David’s hilariously uncertain grasp of modern politics is also apparent in a scene where a reporter from the Evening Standard, London’s right-of-centre, George Osborne-edited freesheet, jumps to the premature conclusion that the pizza killing is a “hate crime” against a Muslim. That doesn’t sound even slightly probable to me. Such a leap would be much more likely to have been made by a journalist from the Guardian or the Mirror, which have eagerly been predicting upsurges in hate crime ever since 9/11 - and even more vociferously since our blatantly racist decision to vote in favour of Brexit.

The piece begins as if it’s going to be a police procedural, but don’t expect anything with the realism of Happy Valley or Line of Duty, or even Naked Gun 2 1/2: The Smell of Fear. Hare’s police don’t act anything like normal police. The heroine (Carey Mulligan, pictured), though a detective inspector, speaks with a cut-glass accent that makes Cressida Dick sound like Ray Winstone. She has a weirdly disdainful, superior air, like most of Hare’s blue-stocking heroines, and I fear she may be the kind who lectures people less politically correct than she is, like absolutely all of Hare’s heroines. That’s just a hunch, of course.

Her name, incidentally, is Kip Glaspie. Kip is rare as a man’s name, and - as far as I can tell – unique as a woman’s name. The most famous Kip right now is Kip Supernova in Escape From Planet Earth, but he’s a nine year-old male alien and bright blue. I do hope that under her improbable persona, she is in fact a bright blue, male alien or better still a lizard-person, but I’m not holding my breath.

There aren’t many Glaspies around, either. I wonder if Kip is related to April Glaspie, the former American Ambassador to Iraq in the era of Saddam Hussein, who spectacularly failed to foresee his invasion of Kuwait. I do hope not. Otherwise, she strikes me as highly unlikely to solve the Collateral murder case in only four days and nights. I’d back Boris Johnson to sidestep her attempts at interrogation, any day.

I was equally confused by Kip’s back story. There’s a fabulously clunky piece of writing, where someone Asian-looking from forensics – I didn’t catch his name, but it might have been Muhammed Exposition - improbably recognises her as a former champion pole-vaulter. Since no information ever goes to waste in Hare’s plays, I can’t wait to see a heavily pregnant Cary using her pole-vaulting expertise to solve the crime.

Sir David confessed in an interview on Front Row – though it sounded to me more like boasting – that the characters had come not so much out of any research as from his imagination. This may explain why the relationships in his dramas so rarely ring true.

There’s a humdinger of a scene in which our Labour MP is reprimanded for his inability to commit by a woman (Kim Medcalf) he barely knows. We know this because she turns on him in her first scene and gives a classic Hare-brained speech: “We’ve got to sort this out. We can’t go on like this! We’ve been on three dates!” Not content with womansplaining this, she writes him a thinkpiece outlining his shortcomings as a consort. It might have been credible if they had been married for, say, twenty years.

The lack of attention to real life extends to the investigation. Pretty much every viewer will be intrigued as to why a single mother of two (Billie Piper) orders a pizza for her daughter at 9pm, only to throw it on the floor immediately it has been delivered, and then, when she hears shots and sees the pizza delivery man murdered outside her window, can’t be arsed to phone the police. But the cops aren’t interested in this at all. They’re not even suspicious. Is Sir David suggesting they’re stupid, or does he not care less about making the police procedure in his drama even halfway lifelike? I couldn’t help noticing, incidentally, that the police left the corpse lying around at the crime scene for everyone to see - hasn’t Sir David even seen a British police thriller before, or a news bulletin?

Even in the first episode, Sir Dave is transparently unconcerned with making a believable thriller than with making viewers squirm at the horrible, uncaring way we treat illegal immigrants. Apparently, we should be welcoming them all in, or – better still – sleeping with them. As if three sympathetic, victimised immigrants from Syria aren’t enough, there’s a ketamine-sozzled, clubbing Asian girl called Linh (Kae Alexander) who’s shacked up with a lesbian vicar (Nicola Walker). Both of them seem to thinks Lyn’s entitled to a house at taxpayers’ expense. Hey, why not? It’s not as if Labour left the country with a 144 billion pound deficit. If shadow chancellor John McDonnell is to be believed, the country can afford to build houses for everyone and spend an extra 176 billion pounds on renationalisation. I’m sure we all know his figures add up, so why not throw in accommodation for the whole world as well?

By the end of the first episode, we already know the identity of the killer. She’s an army captain. I do hope she isn’t going to become yet another of Hare’s stick-figures with which to beat the British "Establishment" - though not, of course, the arty part of the Establishment to which Hare belongs. I can hardly wait for Episode 2. It promises to be even funnier. Bring on the Fascists, I say.

NB As regular readers will know, some of my favourite films, such as The Grapes of Wrath, Z and Hoop Dreams, are from a left-wing standpoint. It’s crap writing from a left-wing standpoint that pisses me off.

Episode 2:

So, as predicted, Sir David brought on the fascists. First we met a sinister MI5 agent (John Heffernan), who prefaced his interrogation of suspected illegal immigrants by snarling the immortal line ““I’m just a mid-level English racist, but...”

You may think this an unlikely, somewhat “on the nose” way for a racially insensitive government employee to introduce himself; but of course Sir Jimmy Savile often used to introduce Jim’ll Fix It with the line “Hi, guys and gals! I’m a creepy paedophile and necrophiliac, sponsored by the BBC, and I’m here to entertain myself with your kiddies”.

It takes a talent like Sir David Hare to notice how authority figures in the real world constantly reveal themselves through self-incriminating exposition.

And it’s not just the authority figures. On the basis of Episode 1, you may have concluded that the Labour MP’s ex-wife (played with a sullen slouch by Billie Piper) was a lazy slut who, despite being a single mother of two, smokes in front of the children and probably takes drugs. In episode 2, Hare reveals that she is indeed a junkie, but it’s all the fault of the Jews – sorry, the Israelis.

When her au pair admonishes her for exposing her daughter to cancerous smoke risk from her Benson and Hedges, she replies in yet another classic Hare speech, revealing a tantalising back story: “By the time I was her age I had already been bombed out of my house by Israeli shelling, I don’t think a stray B&H is going to do her any harm.”

Sir David is equally upfront about lifting the lid on sexism within the BBC – oops, I mean the British army. He’s created another memorable Hare character in the pervy senior officer – I didn’t catch his name, so let’s call him Major Red Herring – who ogles subordinate female soldiers in the showers and then drunkenly rapes them.

Major Red, too, has a way with self-incriminating words (“I am your superior officer; I can do what I want”), and the women under him, both metaphorically and all too literally, are equally keen to spell out the beastliness of the forces mentality to us. “I don’t see why we should have to put up with it,” remarked one. “You know the answer,” another replies, “because this is the Army.”

Some of you may judge this over-cruelly as excessively clunky dialogue. Others may be more forgiving. Sir David is perfectly entitled to expose the number of sex pests in the British army, as opposed to, say, UN forces, or agents of Oxfam or Save The Children, who - as we all know now - are blameless.

And those of you eager to construe Hare’s left-wing establishment view of the army as an unfounded, politically motivated attack should watch out. You may be next, if you speak out.

Thank goodness Sir David’s beloved film and TV industry doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of. Liberals such as Harvey Weinstein, Roman Polanski and a string of movie executive sex pests going back to the age of Louis B. Mayer, Daryl Zanuck and Arthur Freed have nothing to hide, have they? It’s quite all right, indeed a civic duty in any “state of the nation” drama, to blame institutional sexism on right-wing members of the British military.

As if all those ghastly fascists aren’t enough, Hare decided to expose the bastards running a prison for illegal immigrants in Essex. In case any of you thought immigration detention centres were five-star hotels, one of the fascist lackeys is on hand to put us right, likening the place to “a slaughter house” where “you need to calm the animals.” Who knew the British government was imprisoning immigrants with a view to having them slaughtered? As always, Sir David has the inside knowledge based on years of research.

He is eager to inform us of the brutal truth: stone-faced guards, CCTV cameras and heavy steel doors everywhere and high, barbed-wire fences. Though high, these fences look just low enough for our unlikely cop heroine to pole-vault over, though I’m not sure if there’s sufficient run-up outside. Perhaps we’ll see.

Which brings us on to the real villains of the piece. I don’t know how many people-smugglers you’ve seen on the TV news and in documentaries, but one thing I’ve noticed is that none of them has been – well, there’s no easy way to say this – white or English. Sir David, however, has decided this simply can not be true. One of the illegal immigrants in his drama has already fingered a mysterious “Englishman” who in all probability (I’ve seen an awful lot of David Hare plays) is the kind of filthy capitalist swine who brought about the banking collapse a few years back.

I reckon we’ll be hearing much, much more about “Pimlico Travel”, who clearly authorised the killing of the pizza courier. I note that in their office there are no travel posters on the walls or glossy brochures lying around, so I reckon this is just a cover for yet more evil, right-wing English establishment behaviour.

It was obvious from episode one that Hare’s central purpose in his “state of the nation” piece is to tell what he sees as the truth about immigration, though he admitted in a talk at the British Film Institute that he had not bothered to do any research into the topic.

Hare revealed that this controversial and timely subject-matter was the element that green-lit and fast-tracked the project at the BBC: "The minute I started writing about illegal immigration, the BBC became frenzied because it is a hugely important subject. But nobody was writing about this."

Sir David must have been too busy writing “state of the nation” dramas for the last twenty years to notice that lots of people have been covering the topic – and all, curiously, from the same political perspective as Sir David’s. Off the top of my head, I can reel off the names of ten filmed dramas, all made in Britain, every one of them preaching the necessity of letting in illegal immigrants, and virtually all of them castigating the British authorities for callousness. They are The Last Resort (2000), Dirty Pretty Things (2002), In This World (2003), A Way of Life (2004), Gypo (2005), Children of Men (2006), Ghosts (2006), Breaking and Entering (2006), Cleanskin (2012) and even – less “on the nose” than the others but still with a strong pro-immigrant message - Paddington (2015).

In America, films empathising with the “immigrant experience” are even more legion. I put “illegal immigrant” into the search mechanism on IMDB and came up with 367 film and TV titles.
Numerous American TV shows taking an ultra-liberal view of the immigration issue have been put into production since Donald Trump came to power: In The Country We Love, Illegal, Welcome to Maine and Casa are four of these, while shows already running – such as Jane the Virgin, Fresh Off The Boat and Superstore – have all pushed a liberal, compassionate, anti-Trump line towards immigrants in recent episodes.

So quite a lot of people are writing about the subject, Sir David, and that’s before we get on to a plethora of politically correct storylines in EastEnders, Coronation Street and pretty much every other drama series on British TV, including Silent Witness, which covered people-trafficking last year.

My guess, based partly on the Brexit vote and partly on opinion polls, is that the public is getting tired of being preached at. By the way, can you guess how many British film and TV dramas have dared to show the strains and stresses of uncontrolled immigration on an indigenous British community? That’s right: none. Nobody’s writing about that, Sir David, and no one is commissioning dramas about that either. How very odd.

Maybe someone should write a “state of the nation” drama series about the reasons why. I know it wouldn’t get produced and it would be career suicide for anyone who attempted it, but it would be fun to see the reaction.

Episode 3:

Is Collateral really a thriller? The BBC persists in describing it as one, but anybody in search of thrills in Episode 3 must have been grievously disappointed. It was full of implausible dialogue, with even more plot-lines and half-baked characters to impede its forward momentum. And the caption at the start of the episode went much too far, claiming this was “pure drama”. Impure drama, surely.

Sir David Hare prides himself on writing leading roles for women. And the director of Collateral, S.J. Clarkson, is female. So I was surprised when the first we saw this week of army assassin Sandrine (Jeany Spark) was a completely gratuitous sequence of her naked – and not just naked but walking to stand at an uncurtained window in full view of squaddies at her army base.

If we are meant to take her seriously as a real human being, this behaviour seemed unlikely, especially given the fact that she had been raped the night before by a senior army officer. Wouldn’t someone who has undergone that kind of ordeal be at pains to cover herself up?

Or was the sequence meant to signify that the balance of her mind is severely disturbed and she has lost all self-respect? If so, the sequence needed to be handled much less voyeuristically. Isn’t there something horribly tasteless in exploiting a rape victim’s body for our delectation? I felt she was being raped all over again, this time by the camera.

Given that we know by this time that Sandrine is a mere pawn in the murder story and most viewers’ interest is likely to have shifted on to those who have manipulated her, Sir David spent a disproportionate amount of time on her back story. This may have been so that Sir David could blame her Islamophobic mental state on her cold, transparently Tory mother, played in twinset and pearls, and with none of Mrs Thatcher’s personal warmth, by Deborah Findlay.

Clearly, the idea of complaining to her superiors that she has been raped never occurred to Sandrine. In Sir David’s alternate universe, the high-ups in the military would presumably have thought that she was bringing shame on the regiment. My limited experience of military top brass suggests they’re a pretty honourable, responsible lot and would take an extremely dim view of such a crime, but then I’m never going to get commissioned to write anything about the British army for the BBC drama department.

So desperate was Sir David for a cliffhanger ending to the episode that he sent Sandrine off with a gun to the home of her rapist, known in our house as Major Red Herring. Will he soon be Major Dead Herring? And does anyone really care, when he and she are so obviously figments of Sir Dave’s imagination?

As predicted last week, the people-smuggling kingpin turned out to be yet another wicked member of the British establishment, a former army officer called Peter Westbourne (Richard McCabe) who announced himself with yet another piece of subtle exposition: “I come from the military and I expect military standards”. Who knew that British military standards included a rule in favour of people-smuggling? Sir David must have access to inside information that the rest of us just don’t have.

Westbourne is starting to suspect that his operation has been infiltrated by a Turkish lady (Maya Sansa) who’s working for the sinister MI5 agent (John Heffernan) who helpfully told us last week that he’s a “mid-level English racist”. The Turkish lady tells us she has been rumbled as an infiltrator by a higher-level English racist. “You’re a good actress,” insists the MI5 man. “Not good enough,” she sighs.

She’s not the only one. Poor old John Simm (pictured), normally a reliable performer, is utterly hopeless in the role of a Labour shadow cabinet minister who keeps going off-message in order to deliver David Hare-style rants. “We really are turning into a nasty little country!” he tells a TV news team, before accusing the electorate at large of “crass xenophobia”.

Simm’s politically suicidal tendencies aren’t confined to his media utterances. In full view of dozens of people at a casino, he assaults his infinitely tedious ex-wife (Billie Piper) while complaining at maximum volume that he has become involved in illegal, underworld activities involving bribery: “I had to pay off gangsters! Russians!”

Does nobody except me think this is unlikely behaviour for a front-line Labour politician? Even Frank Field never behaved this self-destructively. There’s plenty of competition in Collateral as to who is the most preposterous character, but right now John Simm’s Labour politician is galloping away in front of the field.

Longtime Hare-watchers must have known it was only a matter of time before Sir David took a swipe at the established church. So on came a gay bishop (Jonathan Coy) to accuse heroic lesbian vicar (Nicola Walker) of being too upfront about her sexuality. He pointed out, not unreasonably, that it was bad publicity for her to have been portrayed in the media as a lesbian fornicating with an illegal immigrant zonked out of her head on class A drugs and possibly involved in a murder on the streets of London. She called that argument “fudge and falsity”. Since she had the last word, I suppose that’s the way we’re meant to look at it. Hypocritical the bishop may be, but she never really countered his argument that she was somewhat at fault. Whatever happened to Christian humility?

There were quite a few times during episode 3 when I feared Sir David had completely forgotten that his lead character was supposed to be pole-vaulter-turned-teacher-turned-astonishingly-foul-mouthed-detective-inspector Kip Glaspie (Carey Mulligan). I hope Carey isn’t starting to lose faith in the production. “Not good is it?” she said to her black sidekick, on one of her rare on-screen appearances. “Doesn’t make any sense.” Crikey, everyone’s a critic.

But small wonder that she’s depressed. She’s done precious little detecting so far. She did at least have the revolutionary idea this week of re-interviewing the only person in the country who seemed to know who killed the pizza guy and why, his sister Fatima (Ahd Kamel). Brilliant policework, Kip, but what took you so long?

This arguably overdue plot development allowed Sir David to return to the evil Essex compound where aliens are being callously gathered together, prior to the slaughterhouse, or so we were told last week. Once again, we were lectured on how awful we are to lock up illegal immigrants merely because they have, er, broken the law.

It also enabled Sir David to return to one of his favourite political subjects, why the west was wrong to bring down the insane dictator, chemical weapons user, war criminal and unrepentant mass-murderer Saddam Hussein. Presumably, Dave also thinks we were right to stay out of Syria, and let the dictator Bashar Al Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies bomb, gas and murder thousands of innocent Syrians. Some might think that makes us "a nasty little country" that's callous and uncaring about the plight of people in and coming out of Syria, but presumably Sir David wouldn't agree.

Fatima certainly hasn’t forgiven George W. Bush and Tony Blair for invading Iraq. Why? Because they interfered with her studies in Agronomy. She was just about “to make the desert bloom”, apparently, when the west destroyed her university career. If only George and Tony had known there would be this amount of collateral damage, they might not have invaded, I guess.

After all this investment of time, I’ll have to keep watching to the end but I’ve given up hope that Kip is ever going to return to pole-vaulting. She is six months pregnant, after all, and I’m starting to think that action sequences may not be Sir David’s forte.

Next week, we are promised that the non-existent thrills are likely to climax, and (I fear) without athletic field events.

It would be terrible to think someone at the BBC actually read these scripts and thought they would be taken seriously as a four-hour thriller or that they were really “pure drama”, let alone a profound and searching examination of the state of our nation.

My humble suggestion would be that director-general Tony Hall should step in, save the corporation’s face and rebrand Collateral as the most hilarious sitcom on British television. All they need do is add a laugh track.

Episode 4:

David Hare’s lecture on the parlous state of modern Britain reached a slumbrous conclusion in episode 4. Anyone hoping for even one ingenious narrative twist will have been disappointed.

Just as laboriously foreshadowed in episode 2, the boss of the people-smuggling operation was white, British and a member of the UK’s military establishment. Thanks to the worst policework ever seen on television, he managed to escape – though I don’t think anyone will be holding their breath in eager expectation of him being hunted down in Collateral 2.

In addition to letting the lead villain escape – oops! - the worst cop in Britain, Kip Glaspie (Carey Mulligan) lied to an illegal immigrant that she could guarantee her British residency, then lied to her boss that she had lied. “I didn’t lie,” she said. “I calculated.”

Thanks to lucky guesswork based on no evidence whatsoever, Kip effortlessly outsmarted the smug but woefully incompetent bloke from MI5.

Then, with her trademark superior smirk, Kip drove on her own to a hotel to stop the armed, dangerous and mentally unstable female assassin from committing suicide.

Characteristically, Kip bungled the operation, letting slip the information that the assassin (who had thought she was shooting a terrorist) had killed an innocent man – not the most tactful approach under the circumstances – with predictably gruesome results. Oops again!

One plot-line came to such an improbable end that it was hard to avoid the uncharitable conclusion that Sir David was analysing the state of the nation as it might have been, had the Hard Left not taken over the Labour Party. In Hare’s alternative universe, the Labour boss (Saskia Reeves) was leading Labour ruthlessly to the right, out of sheer political opportunism, expressed with wondrous crassness. Thanks for warning us about Labour’s drift to the Right, Dave, but don’t you read the newspapers? Or was this fantastical sub-plot found in some dusty drawer, written in the heyday of Tony Blair?

On the end credits, two unfortunates were identified as “police advisor” and “army advisor”. A “politics advisor” might not have come amiss. But I can only assume that any notes the advisors gave were overruled. For example, the assassin’s mum would not have been informed by phone of her daughter’s death; she would at least have had the courtesy of a home visit.

Other plot-lines were simply forgotten and left dangling. We never did find out who owned the pizza parlour. The lesbian sub-plot ran out of steam, as the lady vicar finally chose social work over rumpy-pumpy with an illegal alien drug-taker. Kip never did use that much-foreshadowed pole-vaulting prowess.

Absurdly, Billie Piper’s character – who had always come over as a time-wasting irrelevance - turned out to have financed her casino and cocaine habit by, wait for it, stealing from her own au pair. Who knew that au pairs are that independently wealthy? And how come the au pair didn’t notice?

Just as preposterously, John Simm’s Labour politician taught his ex-wife a lesson by walking out on her, obviously forgetting that he had already walked out on her before, leaving her with two young children and no sign of guilt – a subject obviously close to Sir David’s heart.

But at least through this most implausible of rebellious Labour mouthpieces, Hare gave us the benefit of his thoughts on Brexit and the free market, which were strangely similar to those of the European Commission:

“Do you know what comes with a free market? Free movement of people. We can’t build hospitals and schools unless we have a dynamic economy and that’s never going to happen in Fortress Britain.”

Hare’s occasional descents into political hectoring were the most predictable of the series’ faults, but there were many other reasons why Collateral was the laziest drama of the year: terrible dialogue, blundering exposition, ridiculous cardboard characters, gratuitous female nudity, breathtaking political ignorance, a stunning disregard for police procedure, and anti-military prejudice on a monumental scale. It managed the difficult feat of being as amateurish as it was arrogant.

Collateral didn't tell us anything about the state of the nation. But it did tell us a lot about the state of drama commissioning at the BBC. It's not so much politically correct as downright clueless.

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