ITV is on an impressive run of true-crime police procedurals. In January, White House Farm brought the Jeremy Bamber killings vividly to life. Then earlier this month David Tennant smoked his way through a fine performance as Dennis Nilsen, the Muswell Hill murderer, in Des. It’s a sturdy enough formula: take a grisly news story viewers will at least half-remember, surround a bankable star with solid character actors, and let the facts do the talking.
Honour, which airs tonight (Monday 28 September) and tomorrow, sticks to the plan. This time round it’s Keeley Hawes, who also produces, in the cockpit. She plays DCI Caroline Goode, the detective in charge of investigating the murder of Banaz Mahmod (Buket Komur), a 20-year-old Iraqi Kurd from Mitcham, south London, who was reported missing in January 2006.
The obvious suspects are her father Mahmod (Umit Ulgen) and uncle Ari (Selva Rasalingham), and three male cousins. They had disapproved of her relationship with Rahmat Sulemani (Moe Bar-El) when they had arranged a different match for her. For Goode, however, knowing something to be true and proving it beyond doubt in front of a jury are two different things, especially when dealing with such a closed community.
Hawes is excellent as ever, her pity for Banaz and loathing of the vile Kurdish patriarchy with fury at her own colleagues. Banaz knew she was in danger, and went to the police with her fears five times before she was murdered. Every time she was dismissed without being taken seriously. The impression we get is that the police treat the Kurdish almost as a self-ruling country, so insular that it’s almost impossible to do police work.
As the missing person hunt turns in to a murder enquiry, Goode’s resolve hardens and her attitude spreads through her team. There’s DS Stuart Reeves (Michael Jibson, hardly recognisable from his performance as Tecwen Whitlock in Quiz) and DS Andy Craig (Mark Stanley), kind of generic male sidekicks. More interesting is Keilly Jones (Alexa Davies, who was in White House Farm), the computer wizard responsible for monitoring the killers’ phone calls, whose dedication leaves her on the edge of nervous collapse.
The opacity that hindered investigators is an obstacle to dramatisers, too. White House Farm and Des showed us the victims and killers’ lives in detail. In Des, where the facts were never contested, the warped psychology of the killer was the whole point. Banaz is shown only in grainy clips. Her killers are reduced to glowering two-dimensional baddies who mumble darkly about family and respect. Mahmod’s sister, Bekhal, played here by Rhianne Barreto, initially complained about the production, saying it focused too much on Goode and not enough on her sister (she’s since said she is glad the project is raising awareness of “honour killings”). Not every crime drama needs to be an in-the-round both-sides affair, but here it feels like we are missing a vital part of the story.
Although Honour does what it can to ramp up the jeopardy – there’s a race against time to find the body, and Goode is briefly accused of perverting the course of justice – in truth the procedural isn’t tortuous enough to carry a police or courtroom drama. The question hanging over poor Banaz’s case, which Honour hardly investigates, is how in 21st-century Britain, with a 21st-century police force, such a barbaric and unnecessary crime could take place. Whether they are victims or monsters, drama ought to give voice to the silent.