A television team-up between John Ridley and Idris Elba is a good idea that works on more than just paper in the April 16-debuting and 1970s London-set Guerrilla, but the real stars of this smart though sometimes slow effort are Frieda Pinto and Rory Kinnear.
As a bohemian turned gun wielding urban revolutionary and the Scotland Yard cop on the Black Power desk who is hunting down Pinto’s Jas Mitra and her allies, the Slumdog Millionaire star and James Bond franchise alum are, as I say in my video review above, excellent in the Showtime six-parter, both unto themselves and as foils of sorts in the well-worth-watching drama.
Primarily written and partially directed by Oscar winner and American Crime creator Ridley and co-starring the Luther actor, who is also an executive producer, Guerrilla parachutes directly into the racially and culturally bifurcated Britain of 1971, a war zone of economic depression and winds of change, to quote ex-PM Harold Macmillan. Similar to today, immigration was one of the pitched battlefields, with the Conservative government of the time passing restrictive legislation and the tabloid press scapegoating minorities amidst rising and manipulated tensions.
Against that backdrop, Guerrilla finds Pinto’s Jas and boyfriend Marcus, played in boiling understatement by Babou Cessay, suddenly radicalized by a police induced fatality. With Black Panthers, the now nearly forgotten FLQ, heists, philosophical debates, break-outs and bomb blasts, the Ridley and Sam Miller helmed series then starts methodically opening the cabinet of curiosities and controversies that surrounded the era and the narrative with revolutionaries, would-be revolutionaries, class, race, power, betrayal and violence weaving in and out of the over-lapping stories.
Centering on a time when portions of a dank London were still pockmarked from the Luftwaffe bombings of World War II was wise for Ridley, who often tells his best tales in contrast – as is the case here as the sun had set on an Empire that was still in denial in some circles. Already fighting the IRA over in Northern Ireland and increasingly at home, it was also a time when the UK’s powers-that-be were legislatively at war with many of their own citizens. When one character in the Vietnam era Guerrilla refers to living “in an age of fear” it is much more than a nod to our own times and what now is clearly seen as a failing attempt to hold on to a certain type of Great Britain that we feel the beats of again in the time of Brexit.
The seemingly effortless and deceptive performance by Elba, who rarely fails to impress, in the Showtime and Sky Atlantic project is but one of many from a cast as shrewd and varied as the perspectives offered up by Ridley.
There are no spoilers but you can see more of my take on the complex and detailed designed Guerrilla in the video review above. Tell us what you think – will you be taking up the cause on April 16?
This review originally ran on April 13.