Crossfire review: New Keeley Hawes thriller is unmissable TV

Jo (Keeley Hawes) in Crossfire (BBC)
Jo (Keeley Hawes) in Crossfire (BBC)

Everybody thinks the choices they make have nothing to do with chance. Crossfire, which hits the BBC on 20 September, puts pay to that assumption in brutal fashion.

Written by award-winning author and playwright Louise Doughty (Apple Yard), it quickly establishes Jo (Keeley Hawes) as a wife and mother on holiday with friends and family. Alone in her room sharing text messages, she is serene and secretive as the phone buzzes intermittently.

Combined with a voiceover which Jo also narrates, this drama intentionally disarms audiences before gunshots outside break the mood. In that moment Crossfire comes together, ups the ante and morphs into something unmissable.

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Split over three episodes, this intricately plotted holiday drama, carefully reveals the relationships between three families. Jo and Jason (Ben Ingelby), Abhi (Anneika Rose) and Chinar (Vikash Bhai), as well as Miriam (Josette Simon) and Ben (Daniel Ryan).

Through New Year’s Eve celebrations and convivial holiday dinners, these friendships are unpacked with care. Played out in flashback alongside the armed invasion of their holiday destination, writer Louise Doughty strikes a perfect balance between character study and propulsive thriller.

Miriam (Josette Simon) in Crossfire (BBC)
Miriam (Josette Simon) in Crossfire (BBC)

Simmering jealousy and tempered resentment define the relationship between Jo and Jason, as talk of previous affairs fan ill-feeling, which stems from her decision to step away from a police career while her husband remained full time. Elsewhere, their friends seem contented and loving towards each other while, beneath the surface, something illicit and forbidden prepares to tear them apart.

After the initial bloodbath which finds partners separated, children absent without leave, and many lying dead, Crossfire becomes a game of stealth. Miriam and Abhi are down in the basement alongside hotel staff, Jo’s daughter Amara (Shalisha Jones-Davis) is cowering behind deck chairs, and Ben is in the desert with other survivors, and the show becomes a different animal. It then focuses on the relationships forged with others under pressure, which quickly define any action going forward.

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Whether that's Miriam’s training as a doctor coming into its own treating wounded staff members, or Jo taking up arms and slipping back into armed response mode without missing a beat. On the flipside of that, there are moments where others fold due to personal trauma or betrayal.

Chinar (Vikash Bhai) in Crossfire (BBC)
Chinar (Vikash Bhai) in Crossfire (BBC)

As Crossfire switches between past and present dropping breadcrumb clues which foreshadow the revelations to come, it inherently draws audiences in without feeling forced. Much of that success comes down to the superior casting of an excellent ensemble, who work hard establishing these relationships in a grounded reality.

With her work in both Bodyguard and Line of Duty, Keeley Hawes has proved herself to be actor of note, who imbues each character she portrays with something unique. Here that track record continues, as Jo combines all the internal conflict and moral shortcomings of a someone who seeks something beyond her own life choices.

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Although writer Louise Doughty never condones the actions of her central protagonist, there is something to be said for how Jo’s decisions affect other people. By using flashbacks to reveal pivotal moments which bring others together as well as push them apart, Crossfire as a title starts taking on multiple meanings. Small insignificant decisions which were only ever meant to selfishly benefit two people, suddenly cause a ripple effect which soon engulfs others.

Abhi (Anneika Rose) in Crossfire (BBC)
Abhi (Anneika Rose) in Crossfire (BBC)

Over a solid three episodes there is rarely a moment when this BBC drama drops the ball. As situations escalate and tensions are perpetually ramped up, there is a sense that something devastating waits in the wings. Through a combination of perfectly placed cliff hangers, audiences will be left with little alternative but to keep watching as Crossfire ups the ante.

With shades of Sam Mendes’ American Beauty coming through in Jo’s voiceover from the outset, there are implications that these are merely memories open to interpretation; that the events which are playing out in visceral detail are just recollections after the fact. This is the most effective trick that Crossfire pulls throughout, aided in no small measure by an extremely clever narrative structure.

In every detail, however small, nothing is left to chance when it comes down to manipulating perspective. With each moment which passes, either in the past or present, this award-winning writer never does anything unintentionally. Doughty is always being careful to place each brick with precision, until such time as she feels audiences have earned the right to see how it all comes together.

Storytelling on this scale, with this degree of consideration comes along all too rarely, and for that reason — along with a multitude of others — Crossfire needs to be on every watchlist with immediate effect.

Crossfire premieres on BBC One at 9pm on 20 September, and is available in full on BBC iPlayer. Watch a trailer below.