Homeland: American Drama Arrives on British Shores

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Augustly decorated in medals for conquering the critics – brandishing Golden Globes for best drama and best actress – terrorism drama Homeland arrived at Camp Channel 4 in February, audacious and determined and warranting the anticipation surrounding it.

Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), an American marine, has spent a gruelling eight years in enemy captivity; enduring brutal torture and psychological torment. He’s presumed dead – until he is salvaged from the rubble of an al-Qaida compound during a valiant raid led by Delta Force. He returns to America an intrepid national hero, adorned by the media, the public and even the vice-president. Yet, this contagious patriotic sentiment doesn’t extend to resolute CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), a renegade operative who becomes entirely absorbed in her suspicion that Brody has been converted into a terrorist sleeper agent by al-Qaida during his incarceration, representing a grave threat to U.S. national security.

Damian Lewis (who joins a growing list of British actors – including Hugh Laurie and Idris Elba – making their mark in US TV drama) plays the mentally afflicted Nicholas Brody with profound sincerity and intensity. Whether delivering earnest speeches to crowds of his supporters, being introduced to the vice-president or discerning the loyalty of his wife, Lewis exudes distinct distress and disturbance.

Yet, it is Claire Danes who arrests the audience’s attention with her portrayal of CIA agent Carrie Mathison. The show opens with her flagrantly displaying her ingenuity by bribing her way into an Iraqi prison to interrogate a terrorist. Flash forward ten months and Mathison, the reckless rogue, is being marginalised by the Agency for causing a diplomatic incident. Mathison is volatile and unstable; suffering from severe mental anguish she is unable to ascertain whether it is her intuition or paranoia which is driving her distrust of Brody. Mathison is an outlaw sheriff of the Wild West who “doesn’t play by the rules.” Her obsession moves her to illegally commence a surveillance operation in a Big Brother fashion, even voyeuristically observing Brody having intercourse with his wife in a deeply disturbing and creepy scene. Danes is uncompromising in her exquisite, seamless blurring of Carrie’s courage, diligence and resolve with her loneliness, paranoia and psychological turmoil.

Homeland is produced by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, both of whom worked on the TV series 24. Although comparisons between the two can be drawn, Homeland is far more sophisticated. Whereas 24 was a macho, brawny and dogmatic addressing of national security and global policing, Homeland is contemplative and reflective. The enigmatic, terrorist thriller unravels with decorum and poise. Homeland explores the post-9/11 American conscience and its surrendering to paranoia. Both Brody and Mathison draw sympathy from the audience and then relinquish it. Brody’s flashbacks to his time in al-Qaida’s custody suggest he is harbouring a potentially vicious deceit whilst Carrie’s disorder and her deficiency in morality creates an ambiguity, rendering the roles of antagonistic villain and heroic protagonist vacant.

The drama is poignant, gripping and compelling and whilst British viewers may have an inherent inability to share the post-9/11 paranoia on a personal level, Homeland is nevertheless enticing.

Homeland is on Channel 4, Sunday evenings at 9pm.

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