The former hostage John McCarthy has called the violent depiction of captivity in the award-winning drama Homeland “grotesque” and accused the producers of using “titillation” to manipulate viewers.
McCarthy, held hostage for five years in Lebanon after being seized by Islamic Jihad, said the plot of Homeland, which depicts how a US marine abducted in Iraq might be turned into a terrorist by his captors, was “ridiculous”.
McCarthy, taken at gunpoint from a Beirut street in 1986, was asked by Radio Times to watch the US drama series, which won six Emmy awards last week including best drama and best actor for its British lead, Damian Lewis.
In one scene, Lewis appears to beat a fellow marine to death to appease his captors. McCarthy told the magazine: “It all seems so mad, the whole bloody plot. It seems ridiculous. But watching someone being beaten to death in that way…it is absolutely grotesque and makes your stomach churn.”
McCarthy rejected the series suggestion that Lewis’ marine could have succumbed to Stockholm Syndrome, whereby prisoners come to identify with their captors. “You wouldn’t be able to function in the way Brody does: a largely efficient, reasoning character.
“And my concern is that, with the flashbacks and hints and really horrible violence we see, his conversion is almost like titillation – let’s keep watching… Did he really kill his comrade?”
Lewis has said that he took inspiration for his role of Brody from Brian Keenan’s memoir of the four and-a-half years he was held hostage in Lebanon by the Islamic group. McCarthy was the Northern Irishman’s cellmate for much of that time.
“I really don’t think you could beat your mate to death. I mean Brian can be irritating, but…”, McCarthy said.
However McCarthy said some scenes in Homeland, which returns for a second series on Channel 4 this weekend, did ring true.
“Lewis really did well capturing the sense of confusion I felt on coming home,” he said. “There’s a scene where he’s beginning to cut his hair and shave, looking in the mirror, which really grabbed my attention. He captures that sense of looking at yourself and beginning to think about yourself in a completely different world.
“Suddenly you’re a free man, you’re theoretically safe and you’re beginning to try to adjust to that world. When he’s on his own, he goes into dramatic flashbacks, which I never had, but I could believe in someone treated as badly as his character.”
The scenes of Brody clinging to memories of his family when he is held in solitary confinement also struck a chord. “When you see Brody’s character talking to his little girl saying, ‘I remember you and these thoughts kept me going over the years,’ you think, ‘Ah, that really strikes a chord; that’s how we do survive in those circumstances.’”
Claire Danes, who won the best Emmy for her role as CIA agent Carrie Mathison, said she hoped that her portrayal of the character’s bipolar disorder would enhance understanding of the condition.
She told Radio Times: “There’s a higher suicide rate among people with that particular mental disorder than any other. So, yeah, it’s no joke.
“The more I learnt about the disorder, the more respect I had for the illness and the people who grapple with it. It’s deep, and it affects a lot of people, and I really didn’t want to render it in a dishonest way. I didn’t want to judge it as good or bad. I just wanted to share my impression of it.”