Created by: John Ridley
Featuring: Idris Elba, Freida Pinto and Babou Ceesay
It was always going to be difficult to follow up an Oscar winning screenplay, particularly for a film like “12 Years a Slave” (2013), but John Ridley had his work cut out for him with this story of politics and racism, in the just released on DVD miniseries “Guerrilla” (2017). What Ridley has done is remarkable; he has created a dense drama about a time that many are too young or ignorant to probably even realise happened. It was a time when many of the police were nothing more than racist sexist bullies, where woman’s right meant nothing, the only kind of person to be was white male and privileged. It echoes the state of many countries that elected right wing governments who are now facing questions regarding how they want to treat their citizens. It would be easy to say this is a reflection of Trump as well as his cohorts but it has happened in the UK, Australia, as well as shifts of governments much like the recent German elections – the world os in a truly sad state.
In many ways the world was a very different place in which “Guerrilla” is set, but there was a growing tide of radical activism in many countries that sought to challenge the status quo of the idea of power, where this power flows from as well its general legitimacy when minorities were being discussed. Representation was a massive issue in terms of getting across ideas that were not white, male or straight to a public that needed to know why they should care about issues that did not have a direct effect on them. There can be such a disconnect between the haves who feel by right they should have a say the way society works, as well as the people who are seen as poor minorities who actually live within that society.
“Guerrilla” is really primarily a love story set against the backdrop of one of the most politically explosive times in U.K. history. A politically active couple (played by Freida Pinto and Babou Ceesay) have their relationship and values tested, when they liberate a political prisoner and form a radical underground cell in 1970s London.
This is not only a gripping drama as well as an edge of your seat thriller, but it also acts as a kind of historical document that through some fiction illustrates what it was like to be non-white to a larger extent, as well as a non-white male to a lesser extent. Through each episode we move through some pretty tough decisions that are made by each character as they arrive at some harsh realties about the country they are living in as well as what some of the power players within the country want to do. These decisions will have adverse effects on not only their lives, but the wider community in which they all live. What Ridley does is to show viewers from a ground level, some of the events that not only provide motivation, but also that these groups are not isolated by geography. Throughout the world, in the US with the Weatherman as well as Germany with the Baader- Meinhof Group these people can see the only way forward is to use rhetoric as well as public displays of revolution to highlight their plight. We see what it not only takes for someone to see injustice in their society or community, but also how far they can be pushed before they see a need to take drastic real, as well as socially destructive action against the government.
The cast is large, as you would expect with a socially conscious miniseries, it is led by Freida Pinto and Babou Ceesay, who are the definite leads, with able support from superstar Idris Elba (who also acts as a producer). Pinto and Ceesay are excellent in their roles as partners who are involved in political activism as well as attempting to make lives for themselves. They play off each other wonderfully in both their personal lives as well as their political radicalized one. The other interesting aspect of their performances is that they do they feel apart from the power structures that surround them, but Pinto is an Indian woman and Ceesay is an African man – so they are in a way culturally disparate from each other. While I enjoyed having Elba in this show I could not help but feel like it was some kind of ‘stunt’ casting, in that I was taken out of the plot when he appeared. I am in no way taking away from his talent, obviously if you have someone of his caliber available then you grab it with both hands, but I felt he was a little miscast, he is an imposing figure onscreen, sometimes his bigger than life parts can cast a long shadow. On the other hand it is some of the smaller parts that are the most memorable, in particular the always-talented Zawe Ashton playing Omega is a highlight as is Daniel Mays, starting to become a staple on British television, his talent is always evident.
The series as I have said is written by Ridley, he has also directed three of the six episodes, which he has done very well. There can be nothing better than writing a series, then directing a large portion, you know the material inside and out, with any questions being answered by the author himself. The remaining three episodes have been directed by Sam Miller who has a great eye, as well as having an affinity for directing period pieces as is evident with “Guerrilla”, possibly the most important and serious show he has worked on in his career. Ridley has chosen well with his directing partner, Miller has an extensive CV in directing television shows over a wide range of genres, as well as working with top-notch talent, “Guerrilla” is proof that he has to be one of the top television directors working in the UK today.
This is not a perfect show, but if you are looking for socially relevant television that has a definite beginning, middle and end then this is for you. However there is a major part missing or at least reduced, that is the part of the African woman (actually generally women in general), as well the part they played during this time of major upheaval as well as challenge to the norms and attitudes of the time. “Guerrilla” is written from a male perspective, which as I have said shows, the main characters are mostly men. The leading female character is not of African descent, but of Indian decent in Freida Pinto who is no doubt an excellent actress as well as compelling, inhabiting her role with both anger, as well as empathy – it would have been a little more even if she had been of African descent.
If you want to watch a show that is easily binge worthy, as well as a history lesson and a timely reminder of how much society has not changed then you will love this show. With so many average television existing, as well as many that leave you with cliffhangers at the end of the final episode I found “Guerrilla” refreshing as well as compelling, I recommend this highly.
“Guerrilla” is out now on DVD.