Last Night's Viewing: The Plot to Bring Down Britain's Planes, Channel 4

 

You're sure it was Thursday night, and not Sunday? There were moments last night when you wondered if you were watching Homeland on Channel 4. Glib as it may seem to compare that confection with an important documentary about a plan to kill 2,000 people, the makers of The Plot to Bring Down Britain's Planes had evidently plundered the terror-thriller playbook to create a film that was as challenging to the fingernails as anything Sergeant Brody has delivered.

At times, it felt like 24 on steroids, which is an achievement, given the cast included the un-chiselled features of John Reid, a former Home Secretary, in place of Kiefer Sutherland's snarl. More remarkable still was the level of tension built by a standard production of talking heads and reconstructions whose conclusion was never in doubt. We knew those planes stayed up, but how our nerves would be tested by the inside story of the plot to bring down the plot.

In short, we learned why flying has become so tiresome. What Richard Reid did for our shoes, these guys did for our liquids. The film recounted the surveillance, in 2006, of a group of men in London, one of whom was in cahoots with an alleged al-Qa'ida operative in Pakistan. Evidence showed the plotters behaving strangely with drinks bottles and hydrogen peroxide usually destined for hairdressers. When their attention turned to transatlantic flight timetables, fear crackled on polyester like static as suits in Washington and London raced to respond.

"Do you understand what will happen if we miscalculate," John Reid recalled telling his security chiefs, perhaps enjoying the studio lights rather too much. "There will be a huge and tragic loss of life, and there will be the tragic loss of your job, my job, and the government will fall." No pressure, chaps!

Evidence built of a plot to detonate simultaneously explosives mixed in drinks bottles on flights from Heathrow to the US. The tension would have been high enough without the Spooks styling. There were satellite images, snappy reconstructions and scenes of happy families in airports perhaps shuffling towards a sorry end. For some, the film-makers will have gone too far. Did we need the dramatic soundtrack? In places, the sound effects were so pervasive I expected to hear the familiar 24 "clock-tick" either side of the ad breaks.

You wondered too about the accuracy of some scenes. Did the covert entry into what became known as the "bomb factory" really come so close to disaster when a man walked towards the house just as a surveillance operative nearby lost sight of his target? Who knows, but it was a brilliantly directed.

The most thrilling scene came with the climactic arrests. The rest we learned at the time in news bulletins, and in the new security restrictions at airports. But the real tension in the film, away from the special effects and frenetic camera work, was that which had simmered throughout between London and Washington. The Americans wanted swift arrests, but MI5 fought to gather more evidence to be sure of convictions. Suggestions that the relationship remained special were thinly veiled at best; the subtext was of a furious disagreement.

There are more subtexts besides, about the true extent of the plot, and the disputed fate of Rashid Rauf, the alleged al-Qa'ida middleman, who, the US claims, was killed by a missile in 2008. For much of the film you felt as if you were being given privileged access to classified information, but, as thrilling as it was, the conspiratorial smirks and silences of the US security chiefs left you feeling there was a lot more to this plot than drinks bottles and egos.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch will voice Shere Khan in Andy Serkis' movie take on The Jungle Book

film
Arts and Entertainment
DJ Calvin Harris performs at the iHeartRadio Music Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush

music
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Mark Crown, DJ Locksmith and Amir Amor of Rudimental performing on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park, Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home