‘Prisoner of conscience’: preview screening of British drama Complicit

February 12, 2013

By Nishat Ahmed

The moral dilemma of being compliant in the ill-treatment of terror suspects was tackled at the Frontline Club with a preview screening of the feature-length TV drama, Complicit, on Monday 11 February.

The audience watched a compelling account of the complexities faced by British intelligence services in their attempt to foil terror plots.

The drama, a production by Many Rivers Films, charted the investigations of a MI5 officer Edward, (David Oyelowo) who believed his suspect Waleed (Arsher Ali) was planning large scale terrorist attacks in the UK. He followed his suspect from the streets of London to farmlands in the Middle East and found himself battling the moral quandary of whether or not to use torture to extract a confession.

The screening was followed by an engaging debate between the audience and members of the panel which included director Niall MacCormick (The Long Road to Finchley), writer Guy Hibbert (Blood and Oil, Five Minutes of Heaven and Omagh), actor Arsher Ali (Four Lions) and producer Kevin Toolis (The Cult of the Suicide Bomber).

The discussion started with Hibbert’s deliberate choice of the genre of drama as oppose to documentary to tell the story. He explained:

“Drama has an advantage of getting to the emotional truth. . . . If you are doing a documentary you will come out saying that ‘Yes, torture is unequivocally wrong.’ It’s shocking and corrupting, but with drama you can go in more interesting areas . . .”

In answer to a question about whether people do have a choice in matters of torture MacCormick said:

“The film is not just about torture, its about how extraordinarily tempting it is if you are in that situation and also how, categorically, it doesn’t work.”

When questioned about the alleged involvement of the British government in torture, Toolis explained:

“The important thing is to say that [the British government] does not systematically practiced torture. Britain is a democratic nation. The most awful thing about incidents like this is Britain stepping off the pedestal . . .”

Giving an account of a writer’s research Hibbert commented:

“We talked to MI5, MI6 . . . and they told me that life as an MI5 officer was very boring and I was quite interested in that because I was determined to write something that was different or what I perceived to be cliches of secret service life.”

Playing the character of the terror suspect, Ali said:

“I never felt I was playing a terrorist. It felt like I was playing someone who was vain, a bit arrogant, too cocky, holds extreme beliefs. . . . For me the whole thing was that he wan’t doing anything illegal.”

A member of the audience suggested:

“Defining terror was the ‘not knowing’ and that to me was the key to the whole film – that nobody knew their own direction. They were all trying to play the game to be somebody. . . . I found that incredibly moving . . . in a way you can’t go forward to take a stand, in a way you have to stand still.”

Commissioned by Channel 4, Complicit is scheduled for the UK TV audience on 17 Feb at 9pm.