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21 September 2022

Crossfire: a preposterous shoot-out drama for the Mumsnet generation

Keeley Hawes pairs her linen shorts with a shotgun in this BBC series. A shame, then, that it forgets the first rule of storytelling.

By Rachel Cooke

Keeley Hawes’ new drama is basically Die Hard for the Mumsnet generation. There her character is, installed in a Spanish holiday resort with her husband, children and two other couples, hoping for sun, sea and “crispy calamari” (which may or may not be a euphemism), when a pair of vengeful shooters appear by the swimming pool. Everyone panics, of course; the rush is worse than for early-morning sun loungers. But Jo is made of sterner stuff, rejecting flip-flops in favour of a pair of trainers before striding out into the hotel’s labyrinthine corridors. Moments later, she is armed and dangerous: quite the vision in her linen shorts (Boden? Next?), now nicely accessorised with an ancient shotgun.

I’m not saying that Crossfire, a three-part series created and written by the novelist Louise Doughty, isn’t enjoyable; if the white wine is open and you’ve nothing better to do, it might be a fun thing to watch while simultaneously WhatsApp-ing your pals and attending to your toenails. But boy, it’s preposterous – and here, I’m afraid, I must warn you that dastardly spoilers are about to come your way, skidding towards you like flamingo-pink inflatables across chlorinated water on a windy day. On the plus side, Jo is an ex-police officer; reputedly, she knows how to use a gun. On the minus side, she is currently having a pseudo-affair with Chinar (Vikash Bhai), who’s not only a member of their holiday party, but her husband’s best friend.

[See also: Have we reached peak TV crime drama?]

They like to dole out the advice on Mumsnet, but surely not even its glorious community has ever had to counsel an adulterous woman as to what to do should she happen to be separated from both her mobile phone and her husband by a crazed gunman. I mean, it’s a tricky one. You want to know if your children, from whom you’ve also become separated, have tried to contact you. But if you give your husband, who’s hiding in your bedroom, the passcode so he can read your messages, it’s more than likely he’ll find out you’ve been almost-sleeping with his mate. Also, what if his phone isn’t on silent? The crazed gunman will hear it! Faced with this dilemma, Jo goes ahead and calls Jason (Lee Ingleby), and five seconds after this, he’s leaving a friendly message for Chinar. “I hope they shoot you,” he says, words he will – but of course he will! – soon come to regret.

Both Doughty and her producers seem to be too worried about the audience, and whether or not we are really feeling it: the fear, and the guilt. Why else would Crossfire come not only with explanatory flashbacks, but with explanatory, er, explanations in the form of a voiceover from Jo, in which she ponders such things as time and chance, and even indulges in some good old-fashioned self-help? (“No more excuses!” she instructs herself, now back in Blighty, advice which isn’t in the PTSD recovery handbook, but never mind.) They’ve forgotten the rule, which is that drama should show, not tell.

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Even weirder, though, is the fact that the whole thing peaks too soon. There is bloodshed and sadness and then there is… Leicester (I think), where Jo and the temporarily (we hope) disabled Jason must somehow try to live together. In a way, this is the true horror story: the aftermath. Except, once they’re home, everyone happily sucks up everyone else’s platitudes, Jo accepts a police commendation for bravery, and all is basically tickety-boo (and quite boring).

Hawes is good, of course. You can see why she would have wanted this part (her production company made Crossfire, and she’s an executive producer). She’s hardly off screen, and how often do women actors get to be the gun-toting heroine? But not even she can make the script any less lumbering or ridiculous.

I could hardly believe it when, mid-carnage, she actually said “It’s… complicated” of her secret love affair (she was whispering to a member of the hotel’s Spanish staff, the two of them having taken a brief break from their Bruce Willis routine). Meanwhile, everyone around her, including the usually wonderful Josette Simon, who plays another of her holidaying friends, is distinctly underpowered: no charm, not much charisma, and definitely no crispy calamari.

BBC One, aired 20 September 2022; available on catch-up

[See also: Michael Winterbottom on Boris Johnson, Covid-19 and his new TV series This England]

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This article appears in the 21 Sep 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Going for broke