American Crime creator John Ridley has teamed with Luther star Idris Elba for Guerrilla, a six-part limited series, which has been greenlighted by Showtime and Sky Atlantic. Set against the backdrop of the Black Power movement in the UK in the 1970s, Guerrilla centers on a couple (not yet cast) whose passion propels them into making the leap from political activism to radical militancy. Ridley has written most of the episodes and will direct the first two. Misan Sagay (Belle) also is working as a writer on the project, which is currently in pre-production in London for a late summer start. In addition to co-starring, Elba will executive produce the limited series through his Green Door Pictures.
A love story during one of the most politically explosive times in U.K. history, Guerrilla tells the story of a politically active couple whose relationship and values are tested when they liberate a political prisoner and form a radical underground cell in 1970s London. Their ultimate target becomes the Black Power Desk, a true-life, secretive counter-intelligence unit within Special Branch dedicated to crushing all forms of black activism.
“We’re excited to partner with our friends at Sky to bring a fascinating and unexplored story spearheaded by John and Idris, two major creative talents at the top of their game,” said Showtime’s David Nevins. “Guerrilla will surely keep our audience at their edge of their seats.”
Ridley and Elba executive produce alongside Patrick Spence and Katie Swinden of Fifty Fathoms, Ridley’s frequent collaborator Michael McDonald of Stearns Castle (American Crime), and Tracy Underwood of ABC Signature, which is a passive partner via Ridley’s overall deal at ABC Studios.
“It’s been a long time desire of mine to collaborate with Mr. Ridley and his work here is nothing short of a masterclass in character building and storytelling,” Elba said. “TV is in for a treat.”
Guerrilla has been a long-time passion project for Ridley, an Oscar winner for writing 12 Years of Slave. “I’m a child of the 70s and witnessed things in the US like the Black Panther Party, Black Liberation Army, the Weather Underground,” Ridley told Deadline. While working on post-production on his 2013 movie Jimi: All Is By My Side in London four years ago, Ridley shared his interest in that part of history, which he considered “a very American phenomenon,” with Spence who told him that something similar happened in 1970s Britain. “The reality was that there was black consciousness, a Black Power movement that was different but informed by the American Black Panther movement,” Ridley said.
While Ridley was researching the subject over the past few years, he had a casual meeting with Elba where the Guerrilla project came up. Elba immediately remembered stories about his father being an activist. “He has a personal perspective having lived the difficulties and glory of being Black in the UK,” Ridley said. Additionally, the Beasts of No Nation star is “an international celebrity that would bring attention this project deserves.”
Guerrilla will feel very specific to the UK — where for example the Black Power movement had a broader scope, also including people from the Indian subcontinent — while also having a global feel, referencing 1970s militant groups from other parts of the world, including the Red Army Faction (Germany), the Japanese Red Army, the IRA.
“Those were people who were led by passion, who thought that the establishment was out of control, and if they did not stand up, the oppression would continue,” Ridley said.
For him and Elba, this is an important project. “These events are starting to no longer be current but a distant history, we don’t want those stories and perspective to fade into the past,” Ridley said, noting that “emotional honesty in the storytelling” is very important to both of them.
In addition Guerrilla, Ridley has two projects at ABC that are in consideration for a pickup, anthology drama series American Crime, which is awaiting a third season renewal, and pilot Presence, which is in post-production. While the decision is out of his control, Ridley said that he hopes both will be picked up, and, with the help of his partners on the various shows, he would be able to juggle all three if it comes to that.
The Wire alum Elba will next be seen in Star Trek Beyond and The Dark Tower.