Complicit, Channel 4, with David Oyelowo, Arsher Ali

David Oyelowo as Edward in Complicit
Man on a mission – David Oyelowo as MI5 agent Edward Ekubo. Pics: C4

Rating: ★★★½ 

Channel 4: week of Saturday 16 Feb, day to be announced 

Story: Edward, a British MI5 agent, has been monitoring a suspected terrorist in the UK for three years. He is convinced that Waleed Ahmed is planning an atrocity in the UK involving a ricin attack and is racing against the clock to prove it.

Complicit is like Homeland with an injection of reality. It’s low-key, compelling and will probably have viewers arguing about it as the credits role.

It covers similar themes to the hit American series, including surveillance, the supposed guilt of those under suspicion and torture. But Complicit is about ambiguities and the difficulty of making the right call in a life-and-death situation.

David Oyelowo is Edward, an MI5 agent who becomes convinced that British citizen Waleed Ahmed is involved in a planned ricin attack on the UK. With some difficulty he convinces his bosses that Waleed should be shadowed on a trip to Yemen, ostensibly to attend a wedding.

David Oyelowo as MI5 agent Edward
Alienated? Edward feels up against it in Cairo

Beaten brutally by the police
When MI5 agents then lose Waleed, only for him to be spotted again and arrested in Cairo, Edward rushes to Egypt to confront his suspect. But Waleed knows his rights and claims he has been beaten by Egyptian state police, demanding that Edward investigate them.

That’s the bare bones of the plot, but the whole thing is shaded in uncertainty. Edward, one of the few black agents in his department, feels he has been ignored for promotion. Is he too hasty in suspecting Waleed after 14 years in the service?

He also seems lonely, separated from the mother of his daughter, and perhaps obsessing about work. On arriving in Cairo the local police say a farm where Waleed was arrested was not being used to make ricin, but the state police – who tortured the farmers – claim it definitely was.

‘Follow instructions – or do what is right?’
As the British embassy and Edward’s Oxford-educated field agent colleague seem intent to drag their feet over the investigation, Edward – graduate of Warwick University – fears the ricin may already be in the UK. Does Edward feel like an outsider who has to prove himself?

The siren words of the state police colonel and torturer taunt Edward – ‘Do we follow instructions or do we do what is right?’ That is, torture Waleed before it is too late.

If Edward sanctions brutality, he may be proved right but ruin his own case against Waleed, allowing him to escape justice. On the other hand, if ricin is found, will anyone care that Waleed was tortured?

David Oyelowo and Arsher Ali
David Oyelowo, taking a break from Hollywood blockbusters such as Lincoln and Jack Reacher, is terrific as the patriotic Edward who may be overreaching himself. Arsher Ali almost steals the show as Waleed, however, and his confrontation with Edward in the interrogation room bristles with hostility and hatred.

Written by Guy Hibbert and shot beautifully by director Niall MacCormick, Complicit is absorbing, though whether viewers like or not may depend a little on whether they find in Edward a character to root for.

Should Edward sanction torture to save lives? Is Waleed really part of an horrendous plot? You can argue among yourselves at the end of a tense two hours.

Cast: David Oyelowo Edward Ekubo, Arsher Ali Waleed Ahmed, Rupert Procter Ralph, Wahab Sheikh Mohammed, Asheq Akhtar Majid, Kaleem Janjua Mr Akmal, Nasser Memarzia Khalil, Olivia Sparks Katy, Paul Ritter Thomas, Denise Gough Lucy, Anna O’Grady Secretary, Monica Dolan Judith, Lee Whitlock Coffee Shop Owner, Shanaya Rafaat Anjali, Adam Kotz Marcus, Sebastian Armesto Gareth, Stephen Campbell Moore Tony CoveneyMounir Margoum Moaz El Halwani, Ashraf Makram J KhouryColonel Hazem

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