TV review: The security services can't win either way in Complicit, Channel 4

 

If you think that MI5 is all Berettas and beautiful women, Guy Hibbert wants to disillusion you. Complicit, his drama about the arrest and interrogation of a Muslim radical, begins with a pointed mismatch between sound and vision. On the soundtrack you have the inflammatory rhetoric of an Islamist preacher.

On screen – apart from the occasional glimpse of the YouTube videos to which the ranting is attached – you have a blankly anonymous office space. Fax machines and photocopiers churn away, making sure that the paperwork of intelligence is all up  to date. And sitting there pushing files is Edward, a desk  officer with a beleaguered air of vigilance.

You can understand why Edward looks so fretfully anxious. Like Carrie Mathison in Homeland, he lives in dread of missing an important detail, because missing it might mean that people die. And currently all his anxieties centre on a surveillance target called Waleed, the hate-preacher in those videos and a man who Edward believes is primed for action. “I think I might be seeing something that isn’t there,” he says, but really he’s terrified that his superiors might not be seeing something that is. There’s a faint air of condescension when he pushes his suspicions up the line, a sense of exasperation when a request for further surveillance is reluctantly granted.

The real drama of Complicit lay not in the tracking of Waleed though, but in what happens when he’s finally pulled in, arrested in Cairo after a trip that’s also taken him to Yemen, in worrying proximity to a known terrorist. It looks as if Edward’s theory has been vindicated. Waleed has been caught with men who’ve confessed to helping to manufacture ricin. But there’s a problem. They’ve retracted their confessions and Waleed himself is now playing the indignant victim: “I’m a British citizen and it’s your job to look after my constitutional rights,” he tells Edward and a local intelligence man, Tony. He also claims to have been tortured, and knows where that leaves his questioners.

So, does Edward play by the rules, many of which also play into Waleed’s hands, or does he take up an Egyptian security man’s offer of some back-channel  persuasion? In a tense, extended scene (beautifully acted by David Oyelowo and Arsher Ali), Waleed and Edward spar, probing for each others weak points. And it’s Waleed, with his detailed knowledge of interrogation protocol who  appears to win: “It’s already out there in the UK, ready to go,” he tells Edward tauntingly, “but that might not be true. It might all be in your imagination... that’s what terror is.” Edward breaks and gives the torturer the go-ahead. Within a day they have an address in the UK and – after Edward has done some more investigation – apparent proof that ricin was being manufactured.

This looks initially like a classic ticking-bomb justification for torture, underlined by the Egyptian colonel’s earlier question to Edward: “Do we follow instructions or do we do what is right?” But the strength of Hibbert’s piece was the way in which it acknowledged that the security services can’t win either way. “Bad things are coming to you,” says the injured Waleed as he’s led away, making you question the extent of his trauma. The address he’s given up turns out to be false as well. So where 24 repeatedly presented viewers with torture as a heroic shortcut, this showed it as a potential snare, and one that fanatical men know how to use. “Mr Waled Ahmed has been devastatingly cunning and you have been devastatingly careless,” says Edward’s MI5 boss as she tells him he’s got to go. And even then you wondered whether his real crime as far as the service is concerned was to be found out. Hibbert’s drama was about uncertainty, and perhaps the best thing about it was that it will have left viewers uncertain and unsatisfied themselves. That’s what terror is.

Arts and Entertainment
Novelist Martin Amis at The Times Cheltenham Literature Festival

books
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'

After giving gay film R-rating despite no sex or violence

film
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Williams will be given a 'meaningful remembrance' at the Emmy Awards

film
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Arctic Monkeys headline this year's Reading and Leeds festivals, but there's a whole host of other bands to check out too
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Cliff Richard performs at the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam on 17 May 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Educating the East End returns to Channel 4 this autumn

TV
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
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