Review by C.J. Bunce
If you don’t follow international politics you may find it a strange thing when the current affairs of a country far away has eerily similar relevance to the affairs of your own country. Americans will see that in a big way as “four days in the life” of local government and police affairs in London is the theme of a new four-part British mini-series called Collateral, just released on Netflix. Sporting that “ripped from the headlines” vibe of the short-lived series Law & Order: UK, Collateral is probably not as thrilling as Homeland or State of Play, but it’s far more compelling and interesting than most recent detective mystery fare like the dreary but ambitious series Broadchurch. It’s enough that Collateral is worth watching for the showcase of acting talent it features. Not particularly gritty or fresh as all the police procedurals that have come and gone, and not full of any real surprises for a mystery series, Collateral feels less like a limited, finite series and more like the beginning of a new TV drama. And it’s a good beginning.
Headlining Collateral is a Doctor Who fan’s dream team: Star of the best reviewed Doctor Who episode of its 50-year run, Carey Mulligan (Never Let Me Go, Mudbound) played Sally Sparrow in the Doctor Who episode “Blink,” and here she stars as an eight-year veteran of the police force, now pregnant (since Mulligan was pregnant while filming) and recognizable to locals in the city as a professional pole vaulter who ended her career with a well-televised bad landing. It’s this level of character backstory that doesn’t add much to the plot of this four-episode arc, but provides prime fodder if the BBC were to pick up a full-series run. Mulligan takes to the role quite well–her character is not quirky or much of a stand-out, just another detective working a case–and that fits the story. The Master from Doctor Who, John Simm (Life on Mars, Intruders, State of Play) seems to fit well in any role and he’s perfect again here, starring in at least his third series featuring human smuggling. He portrays a local official who is pulled into the murder of a Syrian pizza delivery boy. His ex-wife was the pizza boy’s last stop, and she is played by Billie Piper, who portrayed the long-time Doctor Who companion Rose Tyler. We get to see Piper in a very different role for her here, as a rather nasty mother of two who is a bit of a disaster herself even before the crime appeared in front of her apartment, in part due to her drug use and inability to move beyond her ex-husband.
The series is directed by S.J. Clarkson, well-known for many episodes of quality mystery television. Clarkson knows her turf well, and she deftly handles what complexity and interconnected subplots the script provides. She has directed great television from Life on Mars to Heroes, House, M.D. to Bates Motel, plus both The Defenders and Jessica Jones. So viewers can trust they’re in good hands with this show.
Two-time Oscar nominated screenwriter David Hare (The Reader, The Hours) wrote the story. The most layered of his characters is Captain Sandrine Shaw, an ex-Afghan war soldier experiencing both PTSD and a commanding officer with a record of abusing women staff members. Actor Jeany Spark (Da Vinci’s Demons, Black Mirror, Law & Order: UK, Sherlock) is riveting as Shaw (on par with Jessica Jones’s new character Alisa), whose place in time and backstory become an integral part of the series’ mystery. Fellow Law & Order: UK alumna Nicola Walker plays a local church leader who has a past relationship with Simm’s character. Another former Doctor Who player, Brian Vernel (Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Dunkirk), plays one of the pizza delivery boys.
With some editing Collateral could have been turned into a feature film–its single arc doesn’t need four episodes to tell the story. And as for a second season, both Hare and Clarkson have said that nobody asked for a return of these characters, so they’ve both moved on to other projects. So despite the set-up, don’t expect any further episodes to come.
Here is a trailer for the series:
Another good, albeit brief, addition to the police procedural and mystery drama genres, Collateral’s four episodes are streaming now, exclusively on Netflix.