Freida Pinto, Idris Elba and writer-director John Ridley tell us why new TV mini-series mattered to them and why we should watch it…should we?
By Sailesh Ram
SKY’S new drama series ‘Guerrilla’ is not just a nostalgic ride back into a dirty, sordid past that much of Britain would rather forget and push under the carpet – but in many ways, a sort of blunt prod to action today.
Or is it?
The first episode of the six-part period piece set in the early 1970s which screened last night on Sky Atlantic at 9pm for the first time is no easy watch.
Skilfully crafted and performed, it takes us back into a time when all people of colour – and even the Irish – were largely discriminated against and regarded as inferior to indigenous white Brits or England’s finest (as those folks might well wish to see themselves at the time).
John Ridley, the man who has an Oscar for the best adapted screenplay for ‘12 Years A Slave’ helms ‘Guerrilla’ as both writer and director.
Invited to make a drama and doing so, having worked on another film set in London in the late 1960s, Ridley, a black American has made a drama with an edge.
It imagines the real UK British Black Panther movement, which was peaceful and non-violent, turning radical and confrontational in its time.
In the first episode, ‘Jas Mitra’ played by Freida Pinto, effectively drags her boyfriend Marcus (Babou Ceesay) into a violent jail bust to free black radical leader Dhari Bishop (Nathanial Martello-White).
This much is fictional, but the characters and the setting are all loosely based on the experiences of real Black Panther members, and principally, activist and broadcaster Darcus Howe, who recently died and Farrukh Dhondy, a writer and critic who first came to Cambridge University to study and was from Bombay as it was then and is of Parsi origin (the religion that emanated from ancient Persia and whose followers mostly emigrated to India after Islam swept the region from the 8th century onwards). Both were consultants to ‘Guerrilla‘.
Dhondy’s wife at the time was the late Mala Sen – who Black Panther member Neil Kenlock reminded everyone at the premiere screening in London last week was a very active member – could be seen as providing a loose template for Pinto’s character Jas.
Aside from the controversy surrounding Pinto’s casting (which we reported on last week), Ridley believes his series will ask questions and make for uncomfortable viewing.
“It is going to cause consternation and hurt,” he warned in the post-screening Q&A which was rather overtaken by the accusation that he had ‘erased black women’ from the story.
At one level he played down the impact such a series could have by saying it was TV drama and that in real life the problems were bigger and more complex; on the other hand, he clearly didn’t just want to leave the world as it is – otherwise why make ‘Guerrilla’ in the first place?
It is a perennial question – where does art end and life begin?
And surely the two must have some dialogue, otherwise as Ridley alluded to, why not just make a TV show like ‘Dancing with the Stars’- the US version of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’.
It is a question a lot of people will ask themselves as they come to follow the fates of the main characters in ‘Guerrilla’.
It is absorbing drama (at least so far) and the characters have depth and subtlety, but artistic enterprise in these times of heightened divisions and fissures need to go beyond the sum of their part…surely?