New thriller TV series features an alternate portrayal of Iraqi hero | Nazli Tarzi

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LONDON – A flood of people enthusiastically entered the auditorium of the British Film Institute in London for the premiere of the first noir-style television political thriller set in US-occupied Baghdad.

“Baghdad Central,” a six-part show, produced by Channel 4 in collaboration with Euston Films, centers on two men whose paths crossed because of the war and the shared experience of serving as police officers.

Weeks after the fall of Baghdad, former Saddam Hussein policeman Muhsin al-Khafaji is approached by former Metropolitan Police officer Frank Temple (played by Bertie Carvel) to help build a new Iraqi police force after Khafaji’s imprisonment in Abu Ghraib in case of mistaken identity. Khajafi challenges the patriot in him and accepts, not out of greed but out of the need to find his kidnapped daughter and provide medical assistance to another.

Waleed Zuaiter, playing Khafaji, described him as a reluctant hero. The widowed father of two daughters finds solace in the maddening and murky context that Iraq has become in 2003 through poetry, for which he has an eternal fondness.

The drama delves deep into the personal relationships between individuals, families, institutions and more important events that overshadow the efforts of those who marched through Baghdad in feigning gallantry and indigenous subjects who fought dogma and even criminality. at the cost of their lives.

Relationships made for the screen are far from rosy; tarred, branded and not reciprocated but remain, said screenwriter Stephen Butchard, “rooted in the world of extraordinary people.”

During the question period following the gripping opening episode, Butchard, who also wrote “House of Saddam,” said the script underwent significant changes before it became a thriller series production.

“What I love,” Carvel said of Butchard’s writing method, “is that he hides the keys. Some doors are locked, others are half open and, as a viewer , you think, I want to see through that door.

A hallmark of this Baghdad-noir thriller, besides its enigmatic characters and attention to detail, are the contemporary and premonitory themes.

It’s hard to ignore the spotlight he shines on Iraqi women. This is captured in a line spoken by Professor Zubeida Rashid in the first episode: “Women in Iraq today are used to disappearing. “

Other thematic threads include the topics of kidnapping, honor and secularism.

“Women in invading society had already been preceded,” director Alice Troughton said in a conversation with Channel 4 presenter Samira Ahmed. Despite this, the female protagonists remain provocative and indispensable despite the tragic turn of their homeland.

It is in the theater of the Anglo-American invasion that the thriller takes place but, unlike previous films, soap operas centered on the invasion of Iraq, “Baghdad Central” breaks with the caricature of life and culture. Iraqi history. Not only do the actors – largely from the Middle East and largely of Palestinian descent – scrupulously selected by Kate Rose James – but parallel experiences of life under the occupation elevate the sense of relativity between the actors and their counterparts. on the screen.

The unlikely heroes of “Baghdad Central” can force many people to reconsider the lives that are caught in lawlessness. As Troughton put it, “No one intended to take care of the people of this country or their welfare,” which, she said, got her thinking, “Where [does] Iraq is sitting in my consciousness in a bittersweet way? “

Commenting on a scene set in the belly of workplace violence, Abu Ghraib, Ahmed noted that “the atrocities have continued but you don’t dwell on the humiliation. “The Iraqi point of view has been ‘distorted’ in the media. “

Troughton agreed the challenge was to make their version of Baghdad realistic rather than authentic.

Baghdad-born associate producer Arij al-Soltan was praised for her insider knowledge and her eye which served the production well. She lived in occupied Baghdad 17 years ago. The film’s granular levels of detail bear witness to this – from the interior decor to the soundscape of the streets of Baghdad, from the Seta Hagopian melodies flowing over the radios to the local sense of humor.

The dialogue shuttles between Arabic (Iraqi accent) and English. Arabic is confined to private spaces such as the home, while English is spoken in public – the guiding logic explained executive producer Kate Harwood. The cast spoke at length about the language in which to unify the series and after fierce debate arrived at this public-private separation.

The cast agreed that they are talking about the element of hybridity that the international cast represents, but also the language duality that tells the story of exile and occupation for many Iraqis. Dialect trainer Abbas Abdulghani has been celebrated for helping unify the varieties of Arabic spoken under one vernacular, which is, for the most part, convincing.

Events in the country serve as the main setting as well as Elliott Colla’s 2014 novel “Baghdad Central”. New characters have been inserted and others adapted for the TV series. It is clear even in the initial episode that the Occupied People and the Occupant were not drawn or controlled by Hollywood standards.

The series covers itself from an Iraqi perspective and there is little to no fanfare for the US and British occupation forces. The struggle that inhabits many characters, but Khafaji more visibly, is how to choose between “loyalty to your country” and “loyalty to your family” and the ability to navigate those difficult choices altruistically in a way that qualifies Khafaji. and others of warrior status.

Which crowns the show and its message, as Zuaiter put it: “It’s not good to just survive.” It is a simple but humanizing message that animates an alternative portrait of heroism.


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