I’ve been meaning to catch up with new Sky Atlantic drama Guerrilla for a few weeks now and I’m glad I did.
The six-part series written by John Ridley, the Oscar-winning writer of 12 Years a Slave, has class written all over it thanks to the presence of Idris Elba, who returns to TV drama for the first time since Luther and not only stars but is one of the executive producers.
Set in an authentic looking 1970s London, Guerrilla tells the story of a politically active couple who liberate a political prisoner and form a radical underground cell.
The tenderness between Marcus, an unemployed black English teacher played by Babou Ceesay and Jas, an Asian nurse played by Freida Pinto, was clear to see but what really made it come alive was the contrast between their love story and the shocking racism and violence that seemed to engulf them at every turn.
Early on we see Marcus and Jas confronted by a group of policemen and the physical and sexual assault which follows leaves you in no doubt about the roots of their anger, which very soon becomes something much more than just spreading pamphlets and attending peaceful marches.
Just as upsetting as the violence is the matter-of-factness when it comes to the way they are treated. Marcus’ regular trips to the job centre are a lesson in humiliation as his aspirations to teach are quickly dismissed in favour of driving jobs because he is “one of the clever ones”.
Elba’s role is undeniably cool as he gets to waft around a party accompanied by marijuana smoke and a girl playing a flute while wearing tight pants. He plays Jas’ ex and seems to prefer using his brain rather than his fists. A lover not a fighter you could say and it’s difficult not to compare his character to that of his career defining role as Stringer Bell in The Wire.
As tense and enjoyable as Guerilla is, it’s not perfect. Pinto is stunningly beautiful but it almost feels like a case of miscasting to have her playing a gun-toting left wing revolutionary. Rory Kinnear feels underused as a philandering chief inspector.
But there’s enough here to keep you on the edge of your seat particularly when it comes to the daring and almost comically amateurish jail break which, as the escapee tells them, leaves
Jas and Marcus as “soldiers”.
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