Just when you’ve got one BBC drama’s claws out of you, another comes along to steal six hours of your life. But that’s nothing compared to the amount of time being stolen out of the life of Raza, a young man who finds himself going undercover to help the police.
It’s not a task he enters into willingly: the British-Pakistan East Londoner is arrested for no apparent good reason, only to be lined up for Gabe, a Counter-Terrorism Office who wants to turn him into an informer. Gabe’s mission? To track down El Adoua, a terrorist who was responsible for an attack in Rotterdam and may be about to unleash a similar attack in London. And so Raza has to get close to Yousef, which he does via his brother, Dadir. But when Yousef goes missing, and as Raza and Dadir find their lives intertwining, things get more and more complicated.
Complexity is exactly a buzzword to recommend a TV programme, but that’s what makes Informer such a remarkably well-drawn piece of television. Writers Sohrab Noshirvani and Rory Haines don’t shy away from the intricate web of relationships that surround each character; we spend as much time with Raza’s family as we do Dadir’s; we mourn at a funeral with one group, celebrate the discovery of a pregnancy with another, and all the while, navigate the thorny ties of break-ups, hook-ups and punch-ups.
That, in itself, is enough to make for compelling viewing, with Roger Jean Nsengiyumva’s Dadir a superbly nuanced figure, as he finds himself automatically painted with a drug dealer brush by those who don’t know him. Nabhaan Rizwan, meanwhile, delivers a star-making turn as Raza, who is dismayed to find himself drowning more and more in the sea of fictions and falsehoods that engulf him entirely. (A sequence at a party involving his father, Hanif, played by Paul Tylak, is both amusing and nail-biting at the same time.)
But Gabe earns as much screen time, in a move that puts Informer among some of the best TV thrillers of 2018. The always-excellent Paddy Considine brings a gruff determination to his role, but Gabe is only part of his story; a former undercover operative himself, is old identity of “Charlie” (a right-wing racist) isn’t that easy to put behind him. Just as Raza is drowning, Gabe is treading water above a sinkhole of hatred. The more he leans into Raza’s world, the more he can’t help but lean into Charlie’s, as a chance encounter with one of his friends raises memories, loyalties and resentment from the depths of history.
All of this is offset brilliantly by the wonderful Bel Powley, who plays Holly, Gabe’s new partner. Where he’s cagey and intense, she’s calm, clear and equally determined; she not only drives the operation forward, but also holds him in check, noticing his slight changes in behaviour. One of the best scenes in the show sees Considine’s Gabe explaining to her how to vary a walk or a handshake to become someone else; a masterclass in acting delivered entirely in character.
Together, they explore the underworld of London, from Albanian crime family the Gramos and a network of money-laundering shops to a suspicious boxing club. All the while, we see the human collateral of the conflicting currents that run through society, as Raza’s younger brother, Nasir (Reiss Jeram), is taken under the wing of Akash (Kaine Zajaz) on the nearby Bridge Town Estate – much to the concern of his older sibling.
The result still ducks and weaves with twists and turns aplenty, but compared to the similarly terror-focused Bodyguard of 2018, this BBC thriller manages to be more about character than shocking cliffhangers. Indeed, the biggest gasp comes only in the final episode, as a poignant punch to the gut ties the plot’s strands together with a tragic feat of misdirection. Where Bodyguard was a show that dabbled in political tensions and social themes, Informer is steeped in them from head to toe, embracing the complications and the messiness that it entails. It’s a gripping, stirring, challenging examination of the toll undercover work takes in a country where the notion of identity has rarely been more pervasive or divisive. Give up six hours of your life to this, though, and you won’t regret it.
Informer is available on BBC iPlayer until 19th January 2018.