Idris Elba’s six-parter on Sky Atlantic about Black Panther-style revolutionaries is not just crap politics, it’s sense of period and place is all over the shop.
‘What we really need is a faux-historical drama series about police brutality and black activism set in 1970s London,’ said no TV viewer, ever. But TV commissioning editors have more important priorities, these days, than mere plausibility, entertainment or value-for-subscription fee. So naturally, when the chance arose to make Guerrilla (Sky Atlantic, Thursday) — a six-parter about Black Panther-style revolutionaries, starring Idris Elba and written by the guy who did 12 Years a Slave — the senior luvvies at Sky were on it like a mistimed high-five.
I like Idris Elba. And I’m not just saying that because it’s actually now illegal not to think he is our greatest living actor who should definitely be the next James Bond and also the lead in all the plays in the next RSC season, from Hamlet to Lear (though not Othello, obviously, because that would be so backward-looking). No, he’s great and all the scenes he’s in in this come alive and make you think that this is a piece of tendentious, race-baiting tosh you could almost bear to watch.
But then, the moment he’s gone, you’re back to reality. Or rather tiresome unreality. Let me give you some examples (plot spoilers ahoy; but don’t worry, I watched this so you don’t have to): the inevitable National Front rally where snarling skinheads, being hatefully white, are opposed by peaceable black folk who just want to make their views known. Down a side street, arrayed like Imperial Stormtroopers, a body of policemen brandishing nightsticks are shown a photograph of the black civil-rights leader they must get. Which they duly do, bashing him down then smashing his brains out (you’re shown this later on the autopsy slab) when he’s on the ground. Exactly like what happened to black civil-rights leaders in London in the 1970s.
Rest the rest in the Spectator.