VIDEO: Baghdad Central offers new take on crime drama

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Channel 4 is to air a new thriller called Baghdad Central which offers an entirely new angle on the detective genre.

Set right in the epicentre of the war-ravished Middle East – Iraq – this high octane thriller is a world away from the gentle tea-and-scones whodunits of Midsomer Murders or even Inspector Morse.

The gritty six-part thriller from Euston Films, due to air in March, centres around a former Iraqi police officer, Muhsin al-Khafaji. It’s set in 2003, just after the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

Khafaji finds himself caught up in a web of murder and intrigue as he searches for his missing daughter.

The former cop is convincingly played by US-born actor Waleed Zuaiter, whose recent credits include The Spy and Altered Carbon.

What’s new here is that, probably for the first time, Iraqis are the central story in a Western made drama. They are the protagonists, the heroes and the resilient ones in a story about them and their world.

The only sad thing about this clever and captivating drama is that it was actually filmed on location in Morocco. Iraq and its capital Baghdad remains too much of a security risk for crews and actors to travel there.

Moreso, given the recent heightening of tensions following the US assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad earlier this month.

Baghdad Central – New drama for a new age

If the first episode is anything to go by, this promises to be an exciting dramatic take on life in a part of the world many of us know so little about, despite the country being at the forefront of the news for so long.

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Iraq thriller: Cast and creatives of the new drama discuss the show at last week’s press preview. Photo: Mark Johnson

Based loosely on the novel by Elliott Colla, Baghdad Central will take you deep inside the country to the heart of ordinary people living extraordinary lives in the aftermath of the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein.

The hero – for that’s what Khafaji is – is a man with a love of poetry, food and family. But he’s also disillusioned, drinking heavily and fed up with a war he seems to have nothing to do with.

Zuaiter is perfectly cast as the long-suffering Khafaji, battling to save what’s left of his family. What he goes through in the first episode at the hands of tough Western allied forces is challenging.

Common aspects of life

I’ve never heard Happy Birthday sung in Arabic before, but the family sing it in the first episode. Funny how similar we all are when it comes down to simple family moments.

But this is a thriller, and although the backdrop is a country under the control of the ‘Coalition Authority’, the story is so much more.

Mystery and beauty of Iraq

The drama is tense, suspenseful and in places shocking. But it’s also beautiful, inspiring, funny, quirky and mysterious, like the scene with the horse – we’re not saying any more. We don’t want to spoil it for you.

It will unsettle and endear you in equal measure. It will make you angry that anyone has to live in such dire circumstances. But you’ll catch on to the enduring resilience of all the characters.

Strong cast

Joining Zuaiter in this brilliantly cast show are Homeland’s July Namir who plays the role of Mrouj, Khafaji’s daughter.

Double Olivier Award winner Bertie Carvel (Dr Foster, Jonathan Strange and Dr Norrell) who plays Frank Temple.

Also featuring are Clara Khoury (Homeland), Leem Lubany (Condor), Neil Maskell (Utopia) and Golden Globe-nominated Corey Stoll (House of Cards).

We can’t wait to see the whole series.