Jo isn’t a sympathetic woman. She’s stuck in a miserable relationship with her nagging husband. She undercuts – and contradicts – him frequently. She had an affair last year with her ex and is currently carrying on with somebody new.
Nevertheless, she’s the hero of Crossfire, the BBC’s new thriller series. Because when armed intruders lock down a hotel she’s staying at with her family, she might be their only shot of getting out of there.
Developed by Dancing Ledge Productions in association with star Keeley Hawes’ company Buddy Club Productions and created by Apple Tree Yard’s Louise Doughty, this new BBC drama is explosively, edge-of-your-seat tense, and plugs directly into every fear you’ve ever harboured about terrorist attacks.
The setting is a generic hotel in the Canary Islands, and the attackers are white and anonymous, neatly bringing the attention away from questions of geopolitics to the really meaty stuff: how do humans react when their necks are on the line?
Our cast of terrified civilians is helmed by Hawes, who is, of course, magnificent as Jo, lightly carrying all of her contradictory qualities while also making her into somebody we can root for – though the show’s insistence on Jo’s deliberately vague voiceovers opening and closing each episode get tiresome very quickly.
Jo’s usefulness in this terrifying situation stems from the fact that she’s also an ex-police officer, so when the shooting starts she manages to talk to the hotel manager into handing her one of his antique rifles (used for rabbit hunting at the weekends, he explains sheepishly), and together they set out on a journey that mainly involves lots of sneaking about and ducking around corners.
But it’s not just the Keeley Hawes show - she’s joined by a stonking cast, all of whom brilliantly convey the abject terror of the situation, often using just their eyes.
As Jo’s long-suffering husband Jason, Lee Ingleby does his best with a pretty thankless role (neither the part nor the position as Jo’s husband seem to have much to recommend them); Josette Simon is excellent as Miriam, a doctor who finds herself tending the injured in the hotel kitchens; and Anneika Rose is suitably panic-stricken as Abhi, her and Jo’s longtime friend.
Everyone is scattered throughout the hotel and to make things more complicated, the trio have brought their entire families along on this holiday – which means that there are a lot of people to worry about, when you count the staff of the hotel. Probably too many, in all honesty, but the show does such a good job of juggling between them that you don’t really notice.
Did I mention it was tense? God, it’s so tense. The camera is always a few steps behind, trailing the protagonists as they venture down corridors and around blind corners without any inkling of who might be lurking in wait. Every move these characters make could be their last. It makes for gripping television – less shouting at the screen, more peering through fingers.
Woven into the hellish present day action are flashbacks, fleshing out the backstories of the characters, including the attackers (though they remain shadowy figures for most of the early episodes, stalking civilians via CCTV-esque shots like something out of a horror movie).
It’s a neat way of establishing relationships and tensions without sacrificing any momentum, with the result that this whole thing barrels along like a train on rocket fuel. Tune in for the first episode, but be warned: you’ll want to binge it all if only so you can breathe again.
Crossfire will be on BBC One on September 20 at 9pm