Wrestling with Terrorists: This Riveting Drama Is Courageous but Dubious Plotting Muddies the Water
Cooke, Rachel, New Statesman (1996)
The experience of watching Britz, Peter Kosminsky's two-part thriller about a British suicide bomber, was exactly like reading Ian McEwan's novel Saturday. While it was in front of me I was gripped: literally unable to move, even to boil a kettle. Only after it was over did my head fill with questions. Like McEwan, Kosminsky seems to have struggled with his ending; like McEwan, his plotting, even if only in retrospect, was sometimes so unlikely as to be ridiculous.
When this happens--loving something while it lasts, only to find it crumbling in your mind later--it feels like a betrayal: you've been duped. Remember, though, that only a talented writer or filmmaker can pull off such a trick; Kosminsky, like McEwan, is one of the most gifted artists of his generation. He is also brave. Fundamentalism is the great subject of our age. Better to wrestle with it and fail than to wince at its enormity and retreat.
The first part told the story of Sohail (Riz Ahmed), a British-born Muslim from Bradford who turned his back on his friends' radicalism and joined MI5. The second was about his sister, Nasima (brilliantly played by Manjinder Virk), a medical student who, seemingly in the space of a few weeks, turned to terror in protest not only at the killing of Muslims in Iraq, but also at the raft of recent legislation that enables detention without trial (Kosminsky's Bradford was a miniature police state).
Part one was the more consistent: it is easier to explain why a young Muslim might want to join MI5 than why they would want to murder crowds of strangers--and particularly this young Muslim. Nasima refused to wear the hijab and felt that traditional Islam held women back; she was also sleeping with her black, non-Muslim boyfriend, Jude. So when she went off to terrorist camp in Pakistan, I was stunned. Why would a liberal engage in the most illiberal activities it is possible to imagine?
We did not see the moment when Nasima agreed to go to Pakistan, so we never found out who recruited her. But to get there, she told her father about Jude, knowing he would furiously send her away for an arranged marriage. Jude turned up in Pakistan to rescue her but her male relatives beat him to a pulp, and as they did so she made her escape, leaving him for dead. …