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30 September 2020

ITV’s Honour is a moving tribute to the life of Banaz Mahmod

The docudrama’s exploration of the “honour killing” of Mahmod was deftly, delicately done.

By Rachel Cooke

In Honour (28 September, 9pm) Keeley Hawes did something with her face – it had, I think, to do with her mouth – that suggested a disgust it was all but impossible to shake off. This wasn’t a showy thing: her performance could not have been more lacking in vanity if she’d walked around with a paper bag on her head. But it was always there, whether her character was in a meeting, or crossing a south London estate, or simply sitting at her desk. An outward manifestation of a larger inward revulsion, we came to understand that it would only lift when the men who had murdered a vulnerable 20-year-old woman called Banaz Mahmod were finally brought to justice.

Hawes was playing Detective Chief Inspector Caroline Goode, who acted as a consultant to the makers of this moving, vital drama about the so-called honour killing she investigated in 2006. (There is, of course, no honour involved in such a murder, only fathomless shame: not only for the individuals involved, but for those who would cover up such a crime.) Goode insisted, initially, that she was working on a missing person case. But from the outset, she must have known the prospects were bad.

A father utterly unconcerned for the safety of his daughter. A silent mother. A scribbled list Banaz (Buket Komur) had drawn up of the individuals who should be held responsible should anything happen to her. If you read about it at the time, you will remember the story – for who could ever forget it? Banaz was in love with a man called Rahmat Sulemani (Moe Bar-El). Her father, regarding this as “shameful”, tasked her uncle with sorting out the problem. His solution involved three of her cousins, two hours of torture and rape, a ligature, a suitcase and a trip to Birmingham.

Banaz had sought help from the police before, and early on a video turned up in which she described what her husband, from whom she was divorced at the time of her murder, had done to her during their brief union (she was married at 17, to a man chosen for her by her parents). Whenever he wanted sex, she told her interviewer, he simply took it. “I was his shoe,” she said, “and he would wear it.” Thereafter, these words seemed to haunt Honour; they hung over it like a terrible gas that made it hard to breathe. Men and women. The police had not taken Banaz seriously: a hysterical girl, they said. Now it was the turn of Merton’s Iraqi-Kurdish community not to take Goode seriously. A woman running the show? Don’t make us laugh. In another interview room, Banaz’s ex-husband repeatedly turned her photograph face down. Every time he did, I found myself picturing him throwing a tatty trainer into the corner of a dark room.

Honour’s writer, Gwyneth Hughes, made a lot in her screenplay of the laborious nature of police work. Car chases and early morning raids were at a strict minimum; a brilliant young data expert, Keily Jones (Alexa Davies), had so many mobile phones to farm – and on a computer straight out of the ark – she was reduced to tears of exhaustion. In the end, though, Banaz’s killers effectively turned themselves in. It was – perhaps this is the most repugnant thing of all – a boast that did for them. They just couldn’t help laughing and preening about what they’d done, in telephone conversations Goode had had the foresight to apply for permission to record.

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And so, at last she had an idea of where to look. “In the water, under the stones,” said one of the men, of the place where the suitcase containing Banaz’s body had been hidden. Again, the image of a shoe stained my mind. We saw the scene from far above, forensic officers in their white suits moving across it slowly, like seagulls on a muddy beach. It was so delicately done. If there was horror, sorrow and respect were the more important things. Goode has always said that she hoped, in as much as such a thing was possible, to give Banaz the love her family denied her, and now we felt this tenderness, extending outwards. It was about care. It was about paying attention. It was about remembrance, however painful that might sometimes be.


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This article appears in the 30 Sep 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Twilight of the Union