Created by Ben Chanan
Original Air Date: 3rd September 2019 – 8th October 2019
BBC One (U.K) / Peacock (U.S)
The advances in technology and the thriller genre have always gone hand-in-hand, almost to the point sometimes that it feels as if some television series or movies may not have been able to function in a time before mobile phones and laptops. It might be a thought that runs through your mind while watching Ben Chanan’s The Capture, but in truth it utilises many storytelling tropes that have been part and parcel of the thriller genre for so long, even in pre-internet and advanced technological times.
An innocent person on the run for a crime they didn’t commit, the evidence stacked against them, not to mention a conspiracy that has levels connected to the highest institutions in the land, The Capture not only utilises a central idea that Alfred Hitchcock returned to several times throughout his career, but the conspiracy element with its angry cynicism directed towards a power structure that doesn’t think twice about destroying lives for ’the greater good’ was a constant hallmark of New Hollywood films of the 1970s.
That isn’t to say that The Capture is unoriginal or does nothing new. Far from it in fact; Chanan’s thriller is an unmissable beast of a series and in some respects makes for a great companion piece with other modern masterworks such as Line of Duty.
Where Jed Mercurio’s thriller finds much of its drama in prolonged interrogation sequences confined to a claustrophobic environment where word and character are the predominant factor, The Capture is very much a series constantly on the run like Shaun Emory (Callum Turner), where every corner and every possibility of safety brings with it a sense of betrayal or another soul destroying secret lying in wait.
There is a deliciously paranoid air to everything here, where even the littlest detail hints at something just lying beyond the periphery of revelation and where the reveal of a CCTV camera feels like nightmare fuel. You come to realise just how adept the series is at this sort of thing when it eventually gets to its flashback-heavy fifth episode which details point by point the events that have led to the main events of the series and which manages to do something that most other television shows struggle to do successfully; jump around in time for legitimate storytelling reasons.
It almost feels like a plot-hole filling gap episode of sorts, but it does it so well and makes the prospect of rewatching the series an enticing one just to notice the most minute details at play.
In many respects it’s a none more BBC thriller; slickly produced and directed, written with a stone-cold intelligence, straddles the line between pulp and grit, but with an angry heart that has a lot to say about the world. Even better is that it never sells out its themes in favour of spectacle. It would have been so easy for the final episode to just turn up the chaos and resolve everything with never ending gun fire and explosions, but even here Chanan (writing and directing all six episodes) has many aces up his sleeve, but he once more invokes a feeling reminiscent of the downbeat conclusions of 70s conspiracy cinema and masterful 80s classic Edge of Darkness with its unflinching commitment to not wanting to end things on too peaceful a note.
Admittedly the body count is lower than you might expect for a series like this, but then its story manages to naturally shift over six hours towards something even more grandiose than where it starts. It may begin with a murder investigation, but it ends on a grim note that even the concept of evidence will have no meaning going forward into the future. The words ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ are invoked during some of the final scenes and it’s here that you get the sense that like the best thrillers, it’s as much about the now and why than the how.
The series fires shots at evidence manipulation, the corruption of technology, the poisonous repercussions of believing that ‘the ends justifies the means’ and just how vindictive at times the ‘special relationship’ between the UK and US can be when it’s being used to further political goals that could hurt the rest of us, decisions that are dressed up as being about protecting the public, but which is incredibly destructive regardless of any so-called good intentions.
For anyone just wanting to watch a well made BBC thriller with a detective lead character, innocent man on the run narrative and a deliciously paranoid air, The Capture hits the sweet spot on a surface level too. Chanan’s story may have a detective lead in Holliday Grainger’s Rachel Carey, but she is part of a world that has its own levels of corruption and career ladders that many are willing to stamp over everyone else to climb in order to further their own goals, whether that’s for their careers of simply ‘the greater good’.
She might begin the series chasing after Shaun, but both characters find themselves increasingly out of their depth in a world that has layers of deception and obfuscation at every turn. Even the reveal of what happens to Hannah Roberts (Laura Haddock) involves an initial fake murder that is set up to be pinned on Shaun who just happens to be a convenient choice for those who are trying to expose the real conspiracy, a noble goal but who are in the end characters that are just as bad as the conspiracy members.
By the time it comes to the final episode there are very few ways to put a clean full stop to it all. It sets things up for an even more intriguing second season, with hints that even if there is a new story for everyone to be involved in, there are enough loose threads left dangling here that could be picked up again in future stories, and that makes more instalments of The Capture an enticing proposition.