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Collateral review – Carey Mulligan shines in a damaging political drama

Carey Mulligan as Kip Glaspie in Collateral
Carey Mulligan as Kip Glaspie in Collateral Photograph: Robert Viglasky/BBC/The Forge

At first sight, it could be Law & Order: Southwark Victims Unit. Delivery drivers jostle each other at the local takeaway’s counter, awaiting the next job. One of them, Abdullah, gets a quattro formaggi to take to an unpleasant woman in a posh flat and is quickly, cleanly shot dead as he leaves.

But instead of Benson and Stabler bowling along to wrap things up in 47 minutes, what follows is resolutely non-procedural. Collateral – a co-production between BBC2 and Netflix – is the first original TV series by pre-eminent state-of-the-nation playwright Sir David Hare, and quickly stretches out its narrative fingers to poke about in the institutions we once could at least pretend to be able to rely on.

Our introduction to the world of politics comes via David Mars (John Simm, first among equals in a cast that includes Oscar-nominee Carey Mulligan as the investigating officer Kip, the ever-extraordinary Nicola Walker, Saskia Reeves, Ben Miles and Billie Piper doing her best work yet), Abdullah’s MP, ex-husband of the woman in the flats (Piper), and a member of the shadow cabinet frustrated by his party’s increasing list to the right on immigration.

The fault lines of the church as a place of succour look set to be examined through Walker’s character, Jane. Jane is a gay vicar whose lover Han Yang (who is in the country illegally – Jane got her old friend David unwittingly to help her stay) is the only witness to Abdullah’s murder. She has not told the police her real name or that she thinks the assassin was female. I’m not sure what protection she thinks the latter decision affords her, but as she was in a k-hole at the time I guess we must cut her some slack.

Abdullah himself is – was – a Syrian refugee. In the garage he was using as a home Kip finds his two sisters, who remain tight-lipped. The assassin, it becomes clear, is part of the military establishment.

Further wrinkles and lacunae abound. The girl who gave the delivery jobs out is the carer for her disabled mother and – the suggestion is – vulnerable to anyone who can either save or threaten her job. The man she passed over for the fateful delivery returns to his old nightclub post to warn that police attention has turned towards him and is promptly beaten half to death.

This four-parter will cover the four days and nights after Abdullah’s death and feels like it has given itself plenty of scope but carries no threat of becoming overwhelmed. Collateral has something of the feel of Paul Abbott’s magisterial State of Play but you can’t help but think of JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls, as characters link and interlink, the web tangles and the responsibilities of society become an every knottier mass around Abdullah and those who have – so far – survived him.

• This article was amended on 19 February 2018. Carey Mulligan is an Oscar-nominee, not an Oscar-winner as an earlier version said.

This article titled "Collateral review – Carey Mulligan shines in a damaging political drama" was written by Lucy Mangan, for The Guardian on Monday 12 February 2018 10.00pm

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