Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Moses Jones - Uganda it if you try, BBC2

BBC Two's original drama has been in a bit of a slump recently. Stuck in a rut that has seen them producing "commemorative, " or "worthy" programming - they've not shown anything to really stir my soul for some time.

As a result, while I was committing the error of watching Whitechapel on Monday night, I missed the airing of Joe Penhall's Moses Jones. I caught up with Episode One (of Three) last night and was seriously impressed. Although the mini has been touted as a chance to see the new Doctor Who in action, his role is relatively minor. The story belongs to the eponymous copper and a group of Ugandan immigrants – some in the country legally, others not so much. In fact the story belongs, in a way, to London: to its bustle, its grime, its diffusion, and ambivalence to the fates of those it shelters.

When a brutally mutilated body is discovered in the Thames, Moses Jones is put on the case by his superiors at Scotland Yard, simply because of his ethnic heritage. Paired with DS Dan Twentyman, the two are met with a wall of silence from the local community, until they are offered a clear lead from a very unlikely source.

As with Unforgiven, Moses Jones gets its set-up out of the way as quickly as possible, and spends as little time explaining things to the audience as it can get away with.

Moses, for example, is a cypher. When we first meet him, we don't know who or what he is. Just a man shaving his chest - a seemingly narcissistic act, until it's reframed by a shot of him tearing off a small strip of tape. No further information is given; it's left to our knowledge of crime drama and its tropes to conclude that he's about to wear a wire.

Later, it becomes evident that Moses is a man who tries to distance himself from his background. Born in London, his parents were Ugandan, and it is this tenuous connection that leaves him saddled reluctantly to the case. He gives away nothing about himself. In the only moment we see him alone and off duty, he's swigging vodka like barley water.

Other characters are as swiftly introduced. Consummately drawn, they debut fully-formed. Behaving one way, they nevertheless betray the hints of a conflicting inner life that is private for now, but will shortly be drawn forth as events force them to reveal their true selves.

At one end of the spectrum of the Ugandan community is the mysterious Matthias, who despite being a legal immigrant and doing his best to hold down the capital's most disgusting jobs, is mixed up in some seriously messy stuff. His shadow is Solomon, a musician who, though in the country without papers, is nevertheless an extremely moral man. Caught between them are Joy, an outrageously beautiful prostitute/escort/hostess, whose uncle turns out to be the body in the Thames, and Jo, a charming but naive minicab controller, an unwitting and increasingly desperate accessory to murder.

I can’t give this any higher compliment than to say this was as smart, vibrant and well-plotted as the best of Pelecanos or Mosley. Get to the BBC's iPlayer, or your torrent site of choice asap.


  1. I too had to catch up due to Whitechapeling and I was pleasantly surprised at how good it was.

  2. It's nice to be surprised, isn't it?