We’ve been keeping our eye on Ms. Mosaku, noting her small but powerful turns in ITV’s Law and Order: UK (2010), Vera (2011), BBC’s Dancing on The Edge (2013), Channel 4’s Capital (2015), BBC’s Damilola: Our Loved Boy (2016), Netflix’s Black Mirror (2016) and Sky Atlantic’s Guerilla (2017). She has also been popping up as a lead in movies like I Am Slave (2010, still on Netflix), and smaller parts in Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) and Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them (2016). We jumped at the chance to see her in her latest drama, ITV’s latest essential viewing, Fearless.
Fearless will be the test of Mosaku’s true talent, if she’s able to hold her own in a lead role with heavyweight principal star Helen McCrory (Cherie Blair in The Queen, 2006, and The Special Relationship, 2010) and the third strong female lead, the Emmy-nominated American actress Robin Weigert (Deadwood, 2004-06, Jessica Jones, 2015).
The story is – Emma Banville (McCrory) is a human rights lawyer providing a roof over the head of the wife Miriam (Katrina McAdams) and son of her latest client, missing Syrian doctor Youssef Attar (Dhafer L’Abidine). She has an eye for detail and a reputation for the relentless pursuit of it, regularly braving the censure of the police, and the eye-rolls of her colleagues. She has the total support of lover and ex-paparazzo, Steve Livesy (John Bishop). When she receives an email from a married woman on her son’s 14th birthday, pleading the case of her ex-husband (and said child’s father), Banville is left impressed.
Kevin Russell (Sam Swainsbury) has been serving life, for the torture and murder of a teenage girl, which he insists he’s innocent of. His ex-wife, Annie Peterson (Rebecca Callard), has always believed him and at the end of a difficult interview with Russell, Banville is spurred into action. So begins her review of the original interview, confession tapes and transcripts, resulting her getting the conviction overturned and Russell released. Only then to be faced with a re-trial after damning new evidence emerges.
Mosaku’s Detective Chief Superintendent Olivia Greenwood of SO15 Counter-Intelligence, livid at developments, involves herself as Russell’s confession and subsequent conviction were the springboard of her stellar career. Cue mysterious transatlantic calls from a worried Sir Alistair McKinnon (Michael Gambon) to exasperated working mum Heather (Robin Weigert), morally shocking twists and turns, and a string of showdowns between our fabulous females. All of this, plus several absorbing parallel storylines which subtly speak to the times in which we live.
The press-filled audience was utterly silent during the screening, and collectively heaved a huge intake of breath after the series trailer ended. An enthusiastic, warm applause followed, once oxygen was allowed to circulate! I have the feeling that leading independent programme makers, Mammoth Screen has another hit on their hands for ITV. As Banville says, not devoid of feeling, “There’s nothing like a dead, white schoolgirl to advance a few careers...”
Mammoth gathered a great production team for this. Writer-producer Patrick Harbinson’s best known work has always shown the gritty realism of the world with the flair and polish of stylish US production. In espionage thriller 24 (2001-10), he wrote realistically in real-time for 7/24 episodes with a cast including a female president during his tenure, and superior African-American actors Dennis Haysbert as President David Palmer (2001-07), Penny Johnson Jerald as Sherry Palmer (2001-04) and DB Woodside as President Wayne Palmer (2003-07) before his time! The popularity and engagement with 24 may have seeped into the American consciousness enough to have contributed to making the Obamas possible.
With Homeland (2011-19), Harbinson humanised the plight of those caught in the complex, dysfunctional relationship between America and the Middle East in 10/48 episodes (2013-2017). With Fearless, he has managed to bring much of his experience to this uniquely British-feeling thriller, which combines politico-legal drama with the tease of conspiracy and terrorism balanced with relatable human stories.
Contrary to 24, Harbison has written a tightly plotted script which, although economical, avoids lazy plot holes and unbelievable leaps of intuition and coincidence, at least in the pilot. He has made Banville a razor-sharp intellect, devoid of showmanship or hubris, because she fundamentally understands that lives are at stake. McCrory makes us believe it. “She is old school,” McCrory said at the post-screening Q&A of the habits Banville indulges in and the car she drives, “She solves things in real time.” As unfashionable as they might now be, they have not been used as a weak attempt to allow her to ‘compete with the boys’ as other strong female leads have endured.
Director Pete Travis (City of Tiny Lights , 2016, Legacy TV movie 2013), also present at the Q&A, gelled perfectly with Harbinson’s storytelling, and kept his direction equally tight. His use of the many close-ups, he said, was an easy choice when supplied with the extraordinary faces and underlying accomplished talent with which he had to work. “It was really important not to have stereotypes wherever we were – not that we had any at the beginning [post-Brexit, pre-Trump], but [post-Trump], we realised we wanted each character to have a rich history… the complex nature of what it would be like to be… living in London and the way you could be targeted, whether you’re innocent or not …” Combined, the writing and directing team of Harbinson and Travis gives a master class in the much-quoted ‘show, don’t tell’. Combined with cinematographer Rasmus Arrildt, Travis has managed to change the scope of the revelations from the intimate to the wide-reaching with the use of just 2 cameras, and at least one hand-held! “I think it’s really important to let the camera facilitate the story,” he said. I think he felt a certain empathy with Banville, realised or not, and the end-product is the better for it.
Executive Producer Damien Timmer could be one of the most qualified producers in the country to have pulled this off to the promised standard. His CV includes NW, 2017, Poldark, 2016-17, Endeavour 2012-17, Victoria, 2016, Tripped, 2016, Agatha Christie’s Marple, 2004-13, Lewis, 2006-13, and Agatha Christie’s Poirot, 2003-13. These are all quintessentially British from different periods with different societal focuses. Here again, is another in Fearless. He is a quiet man who gives the impression of a huge passion for his work. In his more modern productions after his long and successful history with period pieces – Lewis, Tripped and NW, he has shown a willingness to move with the times.
In Lewis, he oversaw the casting of Angela Griffin as a DS in 12 episodes, Babou Ceesay as a DC in 2, Kemi-bo Jacobs as a WPC/DC in 2, and Steve Toussaint as a Chief Superintendent in 6, along with Ariyon Bakare (2), Richie Campbell (2), Joe Dixon (2), Peter de Jersey (2), Wil Johnson (2), Tosin Cole (2), and Pippa Bennet-Warner as a reporter (2), to name a few. In the uniquely British sci fi comedy series Tripped, Georgina Campbell handled multiple personas as part of the excellent, time travelling central cast. He took on Zadie Smith’s well-loved best-seller NW, a story written from multiple aspects of the black British perspective, and secured a strong cast in the fantastic Nikki Amuka-Bird  as principal, supported by central cast mates Richie Campbell, OT Fagbenle and Cyril Gueï.
Now, Timmer has given us possibly the first black female DCS on UK TV in Mosaku’s Olivia Greenwood – a policewoman at the top of her game, a complex character who doesn’t need to be liked to do her job in pursuing the truth, but who is reticent about her private life. Her ethnic origin is incidental, so Mosaku can really stretch her acting mettle without the usual racial restraints. There is no ‘Angry Black Woman’ here. Greenwood is so much more and allowed to show it. During the Q&A, Mosaku admitted to it being a new experience for her, though she has previously played a hapless detective constable in Vera and a traffic warden in Capital. This is a truly meaty role to which, if the pilot is anything to go by, she more than rises to meet. Greenwood’s cool, determined manner, as one who might have a lot to lose should Banville succeed, adds to the uncertainty of who is good, who is bad and whether the case of the tragic schoolgirl can possibly have any grey areas.
To my question on how the finished product made them each feel, Timmer said, “Really, really proud of making a grown up, contemporary piece for ITV… for a commercial network.”
McCrory said, “Playing Emma, who’s really quite an introverted character, I liked the fact that she doesn’t explain herself all the time… I’m genuinely very excited. I don’t like watching myself, and I don’t… I watch the drama around me, and that’s down the skill of this man [Timmer] and this man [Travis], Patrick and the rest of the cast. I really want to unleash Emma onto the world, on lots of cases! I hope the audience like her.”
Travis said, “[It’s] pretty much a dream job for me really. I’ve always wanted to do things that were about politics, but not overtly political… I think we do live is scary, dark times, and it’s nice to tell the story of a character that’ll hold a candle up and says,’ there’s a light here, it doesn’t have to be this bad’, I find that quite exciting.”
Mosaku said, “I really enjoyed watching it, it’s dead exciting… I really can’t wait to see the rest!”
Fearless also stars Sir Michael Gambon (The Viceroy’s House, 2017, Fortitude, 2015, 6/8 Harry Potters, 2004-11, Maigret 1992-93, The Singing Detective, 1986), Jamie Bamber (Battlestar Galactica, 2004-09, series 1-3 Law and Order: UK, 2009-12, Marcella, 2011) and comedian John Bishop (Accused, 2012, Skins, 2009-10).
Fearless beings Monday 12th June, 9pm on ITV