David Hare’s new four-part drama Collateral arrived on the BBC this week, the kind of prestige production that it’s a critic’s non-negotiable duty to pass judgment on.
Hare made his name, of course, writing big state-of-the-nation dramas for the stage, and he’s clearly attempting to pull off something similar. I’m sorry to say that he fails badly here.
A pizza deliveryman is shot dead outside a swanky block of flats in central London, and a host of characters and big issues, including the migrant crisis, party politics and religion, are drawn into the mystery surrounding the killing. The victim was a Syrian asylum seeker. The only witness is an illegal immigrant. The latter is in a lesbian relationship with a Cof E vicar, who is herself a friend of a Labour politician, whose estranged wife was the last person to see the pizza guy alive.
Hare wants to give the impression of complexity, but in truth it all feels rather effortful, with the big issue stuff unsubtly mashed together with the murder story.
The best TV crime thrillers put maximum effort into making the police investigations feel real – Mindhunter and Line of Duty are great examples from last year. Hare seems instead to be channelling The Bill, with the investigation handled in perfunctory terms. Carey Mulligan’s woeful miscasting as the lead detective doesn’t help matters either – she’s the least convincing crime fighter since Bananaman.
The production certainly looks the part: all lamp-lit streets and off-kilter camera angles, but that’s about it for plus points. Like Mulligan, the rest of the cast, including John Simm, Nicola Walker and Billie Piper, struggle to make the material come to life, and it’s mainly the fault of Hare’s clunky script. Choice cuts include the vicar’s opening pronouncement, “God, I’m a mess!” and the MP’s girlfriend shouting at him: “Has it ever occurred to you there might not be another Labour government?” Ludicrously, we’re also told that Mulligan’s character is a former professional pole vaulter – presumably because at some point in a later episode she will need to find an ingenious way of scaling a tall building.
You get the sense that because Hare is such a totemic figure, no one at the Beeb was brave enough to take a red pen to his work.