wed 21/11/2018

Black Earth Rising, BBC Two review - Blick's new blockbuster | reviews, news & interviews

Black Earth Rising, BBC Two review - Blick's new blockbuster

Black Earth Rising, BBC Two review - Blick's new blockbuster

Politics, genocide, race and the law collide in ambitious thriller

Conflicted: Michaela Coel as Kate Ashby

As writer and director, Hugo Blick has brought us two of the twistiest dramas in recent-ish memory (The Shadow Line and The Honourable Woman). Looks like he’s done it again here, if not more so, since the eight-part Black Earth Rising takes as its backdrop the Rwandan genocide of 1994, and the way its repercussions continue to be felt on individual survivors and in the legal chambers of the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

In the Blick-esque scheme of things, it will probably turn out that almost everything in this opening episode was a feint or a decoy, but the scope of the piece is already becoming apparent. In the opening sequence, in which lawyer Eve Ashby (Harriet Walter, pictured below) is participating in a question-and-answer session about her work as an international prosecutor, she’s ambushed by a hostile questioner who accuses her of “vomiting up neo-colonialist bullshit” and indulging in “self-righteous Western paternalism”. Evidently from an African background himself, he’s contemptuous of Ashby and her highfalutin notions of bringing white, European justice to an Africa ravaged by Western colonialism. “African problems deserve African solutions,” he snarls.

Black Earth RisingThis confrontation is not an especially subtle dramatic device, but it rolls the pitch for Blick to ask big, prickly questions about imperialism and racism, while contemplating whether the horrors of the past can ever really be erased. To personify some of these chin-stroking propositions, at centre stage he places the relationship between Eve and her adopted daughter Kate (Michaela Coel), a trainee lawyer herself.

Kate was an orphaned survivor of a Hutu massacre of Tutsis and rescued by Eve, but suffers an overhang of emotional trauma as well as bearing horrific scars inflicted by her tormentors. When Eve is appointed as prosecutor in the trial of Congolese general Simon Nyamoya (Danny Sapani), who’s apparently been smuggling gems out of the Congo, Kate explodes with fury and disbelief. Nyamoya, she rages, helped to save Tutsis from the murderous Hutus. She likens putting him on trial to Jewish survivors prosecuting General Eisenhower for fighting against Hitler. Kate’s relationship with Eve immediately comes under potentially terminal pressure. The fact that Kate doesn’t even know her real name – Eve christened her Kate when she adopted her – sums up her disorientation in her alien adoptive environment.

Black Earth RisingScenes set in a sweaty, dusty, dangerous Congo contrast starkly with the antiseptically pristine environment of the ICC, where lawyers and functionaries glide smoothly along air-conditioned corridors amid sleek modernist décor. The notion of the well-upholstered international legal classes dispensing designer-justice to the world’s poor and downtrodden – Eve’s angry interrogator couldn’t help wondering why almost all the ICC’s defendants are black – is not a very edifying one, particularly when it becomes clear that Eve’s boss Michael Ennis (the excellent John Goodman, pictured above) regards the Nyamoya trial as a highly prestigious feather in his firm’s cap. He hasn’t hesitated to pull strings and wield his influence with the American administration, which apparently carries decisive weight at the ICC, to make sure Eve was appointed as prosecutor.

It’s early days, but this was a compelling start. It remains to be seen whether Blick’s dramatic structure can support the enormous tonnage of issues and expectations he’s going to load onto it. To give himself every chance, Blick is even going to appear later on as the sinister lawyer Blake Gaines. If you want a job done properly, do it yourself.

Scenes set in a sweaty, dusty, dangerous Congo contrast starkly with the antiseptically pristine environment of the ICC

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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