A Puzzle On Pepys Road: BBC1's Capital Review
In the wake of the Paris attacks, when every right-wing nut-job is crawling out of the woodwork, and a blathering turd like Simon Heffer is getting dewy-eyed about Enoch Powell, now is exactly the right time for a deep and thoughtful examination of multicultural London. So is the BBC’s new prestige adaptation of John Lanchester’s 20012 novel Capital the state-of-the-nation drama we want?
Judging from the slow but steady first episode it looks like the three part series has at least some of the right ingredients. Capital is the story of the disparate denizens who live and work on Pepys Road, a very loosely-bound community of different races, classes and religious persuasions who rub shoulders with each other but live such different lives that they can barely understand each other’s reference points. Zimbabwean refugee Quentina (Wunmi Mosaku) who works as a traffic warden has about as much in common with high-flying banker Roger (Toby Jones) who is aiming for a £2,000,000 bonus, as stressed-out corner-shop owner Ahmed (Adeel Akhtar) has with wet liberal policeman DI Mill (Brian Dick).
The south London suburban street where they and others cross paths is a delicate ecosystem with clashing identities concertinaed together only just getting along. And then someone decides to shake everything up with some sinister pictures of the residents bearing the mysterious slogan "we want what you have".
It’s an effective McGuffin that sets viewers up for an unpredictable next two episodes: trouble surely, but it's hard to tell who will go up a ladder and who will slide down a snake. Some are comparing the show to Dickens, but it’s actually more like a very English version of Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing; with the latter showing how the urban tangle could incubate a race riot, the Beeb's drama showing just how terribly sorry we’d all be in the event of any kind of crisis (Toby Jones apologises for apologising at one point).
It’s not quite the rivers of blood that Heffer and his herd would no doubt prefer to watch (they'll just have to wait for the screen version of Michel Houellebecq's Submission), but nevertheless Capital is a recognisable and humane attempt to pick through the manifold tricky issues that are created by multicultural city life.
It is a slow-burner but there are some nice moments of dark comedy, espeically as it dissects how money makes the world stutter and skewers the dreary modern obsession with house prices. There are also some stunning drone shots of London, which more than make up for the sometimes clunky dialogue.
Who you are may define who you root for in the story; we were a bit sorry to see no nosy, trouble-making journalists represented, but maybe this oversight will be corrected in episode two.
Capital continues on BBC1 on Tuesday nights at 9pm or can be seen on the BBC iPlayer.
What did you think of it? Let us know in the comments below.
Last Updated 24 November 2015