Collateral: A Subtly Subversive Thriller

Collateral Carey Mulligan

Collateral, David Hare’s new thriller produced by the BBC, centers on the murder of a pizza delivery man, but as its name suggests, the miniseries is not just about the murder. Though the show follows the police investigation led by D.I. Kip Glaspie (Carey Mulligan), the viewer knows the identity, if not the motive, of the killer from the first episode on. As Kip works to put the pieces together, the viewer has time not only to unpack why the crime took place but to consider what the experiences of the people involved can tell us about our society.

Though the show delivers on plot twists and suspense, it’s more nuanced than your average crime drama. In Collateral, there are no shots of the corpse in the morgue; we see the shooting, but the camera does not linger on the body. Rather, by focusing on the living, Collateral encourages viewers to explore how a crime can harm people who are merely adjacent to it.

Many of the miniseries’ central characters are women, and as they reckon with the fallout of the murder, we see them negotiating sexism in their daily lives, whether it arrives in the form of a snide but harmless comment from a male colleague, or coercive sex. Mulligan was pregnant during the show’s filming, and rather than use camera angles to obscure this fact, Hare wrote the pregnancy into the script. Hare invites us to share Kip’s shrug of annoyance when a male police officer comments on her pregnancy, but Kip herself hardly alludes to the fact that she’s pregnant—she’s too busy getting on with her job.

Hare shows how the characters’ experiences of the crime are filtered through class as well as through gender, emphasizing how the collateral damage of a crime is most severe for people whose economic situation or immigration status makes them in some way vulnerable. This is especially evident in the plot lines devoted to the sisters of the murdered delivery man (Ahd Hassan Kamel and July Namir), refugees who may soon be deported; the sole witness to the murder, a Vietnamese foreign student (Kae Alexander) who has overstayed her visa; and the manager of the pizza restaurant (Hayley Squires), a single woman caring for her dying mother in their council estate flat.

Stories like that of the sisters of the murder victim are thrown into contrast by their more affluent counterparts, reminding viewers how wealth and social status shield the innocent from incidental damage and the guilty from justice. The woman who ordered the pizza, (Billy Piper) can afford to treat the murder and the police investigation as an unwanted intrusion into her chaotic home. Her ex-husband, the local Labour MP (John Simm), makes a statement condemning hate crimes against immigrants, and his job is more or less done. And as the plot unfolds, subplots emerge that hint of government corruption and potential military involvement.

With Collateral, Hare has artfully constructed not only a gripping thriller with a Dickensian web of interconnected characters, but a thoughtful commentary on issues as diverse and complicated as sexual harassment in the workplace, the refugee crisis, immigration policy, class disparities in gentrifying London, and the consequences of UK military involvement in the Middle East. The show’s emphasis on the perspectives of women, minorities, and marginalized members of society is subtly subversive in a genre which frequently turns a voyeuristic gaze towards these kinds of characters. Smart, empathetic, and unsettling, Collateral charts a course that prestige crime dramas would do well to follow.

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