REVIEW: FREIDA PINTO AND BABOU CEESAY SHINE IN SHOWTIME’S POLITICAL DRAMA ‘GUERRILLA’!

When the Emmy’s roll around, John Ridley’s astonishing miniseries, Guerrilla, is sure to rack up a bag full of nominations. The Showtime series is set against the backdrop of 1971 London, a time of racial, cultural and political upheaval when blacks and other minorities confronted pervasive prejudice. Fighting back was an underground resistance movement, in this case, led by Marcus (Babou Ceesay) and Jas (Freida Pinto), a passionate young couple determined to bring about change despite the high cost. Scotland Yard’s black power desk, was a secret counter-intelligence task force set up to extinguish the resistance through whatever means were deemed necessary.

Oscar winner John Ridley proved the depth of his skills with 12 Years a Slave for which he won best writing honors for an adapted screenplay and ABC’s American Crime, forcing the audience to confront the uncomfortable truths surrounding issues of race, class and humanity. These same sensibilities burrow their way into Guerrilla, which the Milwaukee-born novelist, screenwriter and filmmaker created, penned and partly directed.

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The cause for justice in England mirrored the civil rights and anti-war movements taking place in America and the series feels very relevant today considering the renewed political activism Donald Trump’s election has stirred. What Ridley does brilliantly and with searing realism is giving rich texture and nuance to the time and to the fight. In the pursuit of equality, characters go to radical lengths to achieve their goals. Here, there are no saints. Everyone is a sinner to some degree, but if the cause is a just one, do the ends justify the means? These are the sorts of issues we are confronted with in Guerrilla.

On the fringes of British society, we meet Marcus, an English teacher, himself a citizen, and Jas, a nurse who is a Pakistani immigrant. As conditions for immigrants become more precarious, Jas grows more and more restless, no longer content to sit back as injustice encircles them. She left artist Kent (a solid Idris Elba) because he wasn’t suitably political. Something must be done and Jas pulls Marcus, whom she loves fiercely, into her plans, even though he is more of a pacifist. His belief has always been that they can affect change within the system. That more reasoned approach isn’t possible in Jas’ estimation.

“People are going to ask what we did. I’m not going to tell them I sat on a fence,” Jas says.

Breaking Dhari (a brilliant Nathanial Martello-White) out of jail, a political prisoner in their eyes, is task one in a larger battle to see working class blacks and other immigrants treated fairly.

And when a black man is killed, leaving behind his traumatized Irish girlfriend (Denise Gough), the stakes are raised even higher. Justice will not come peacefully, but through violent activism, lengths people like Jas feel they are pushed to. On the other side of the coin are the police, specifically, the black power desk, tasked with quashing the growing movement, monitoring Marcus and Jas’ activities. Inspector Pence (Rory Kinnear) runs the unit, a racist law enforcement officer with contradictions in his own life, having fathered a black son.

It is these contradictions and the questionable choices characters make, just or not, that force us to think and challenge our own beliefs. Ceesay as Marcus is a revelation, gently inhabiting the conflicted figure, infusing him with emotion that causes you to care deeply. Ceesay brings Marcus’ inner conflict to the surface with powerful impact that will surely result in the British actor being singled out come awards season.

Pinto as Jas is a force of nature in a role that marks a new phase in the Slumdog Millionaire actress’ career. Pinto simply shines as a fierce activist, so passionate about her cause that she gives up parts of her soul to reach her desired destination. Is the personal cost she pays too high? Pinto lets us into Jas’ orbit, emotional and completely immersed as if she knows she was born to play this role. Pinto triumphs here and may very well be rewarded with an Emmy for her efforts.

Race, class, and the pursuit of justice are issues constantly needing to be confronted in civilized society and Guerrilla takes on that task, led by an inspired storyteller in Ridley, to devastating effect. The series demands to be seen, a masterpiece from Showtime which continues to churn out high quality content.

‘GUERRILLA’ AIRS ON SHOWTIME. NEW EPISODE, SATURDAY, 9 P.M. ET/PT

PHOTO: SHOWTIME

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