Crossfire is one of the most stressful and tense BBC dramas – but that’s what makes it excellent

Crossfire is not only nail-biting and tense, it also holds a mirror up to our human thought processes and fight-or-flight mode of survival – that’s what makes it great, according to Stylist’s Morgan Cormack. 

Warning: this article contains spoilers for the first episode of BBC One’s Crossfire.

We had a strong feeling that Crossfire was going to be a strong contender for the title of ‘truly unmissable’ show this autumn, and we’re here to tell you that it is.

We may have quickly won over by the mere mention of Keeley Hawes as the series’ lead actor, but Crossfire is quite unlike anything else on TV at the moment. A detective-drama heavy autumnal television schedule may be underway but this show isn’t your typical crime drama. Oh no. Yes, it’s a drama with a tragic crime at its centre, but rather than solely exploring that, Crossfire does a better job of exploring the human and relatable elements that unfold in moments of tragedy.

It may seem hard to initially believe, but really, the series forces you to consider what you would personally do in such disastrous circumstances. 

Keeley Hawes stars as Jo in BBC One’s Crossfire.

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What the series does superbly well is place you straight into the drama and utilises flashbacks to provide crucial context about the group of friends we’re introduced to. We meet Jo (Hawes) as the organised mother of two, excited about a sunlit holiday abroad with friends and her husband Jason (Lee Ingleby). But early on, we start to see the cracks in their relationship. 

We soon hear the snide comments between the two, we witness how she ignores her husband’s requests to go down to breakfast with the kids and we get a peek at the evening before. What was supposed to be a joyous first group dinner together devolves into a heated argument about being the centre of attention and changing family dynamics. It’s clear to see that Jason feels emasculated at the mention of Jo’s former police officer career, so much so that he takes any opportunity to diminish it in front of others.

The previous evening’s events are the reason why Jo takes up her isolated position on their balcony the next day, rather than sit poolside with everyone else. And it’s the decision that sees Jo removed from the unfolding drama down below. One minute she’s waving at her son from the balcony, the next she’s hearing piercing gunshots and strapping on her trainers, ready to run out.

Her response is instantaneous and she narrates how that simple shoe choice was already an indicator of what she intended to do: find and protect her children.  

Vikash Bhai as Chinar in BBC One’s Crossfire.

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Just a moment before, we see Jo taking suggestive selfies in the bathroom and sending them to a mysterious figure. But the speed with which everything changes is an indicator of how quickly this first episode moves. It feels like you’re being pulled along by a heavy freight train; seeing things unfold in real time while also getting a glimpse of the reason why the group of friends have all found themselves here on holiday together. It’s an unlikely format but one that introduces you to the characters – and their pre-existing personal dynamics – in snippets as the drama of the shooting parallels it all.

Even in an episode that manages to remain fast-paced and high octane, it is made up of painstakingly long silences. The kind where you’re left holding your own breath or squeezing your fists together in order to remain calm, reflecting the rising anxiety and stress of the holiday-goers in the series. 

Josette Simon as Miriam in BBC One’s Crossfire.

We’re all familiar with the heady laziness and sundazed nature of a holiday resort and that’s part of the reason why it’s so easy to think of yourself in and among the drama. It also forms a major part of the reason why it’s so easy to ask yourself what you would do in an event like this – and the characters provide us with a variety of answers to that all important question.

Would you be like Jo and refuse to listen to authority in a bid to protect your family? Or be more like Jason, the kind of man who lies about looking for his stepdaughter and runs away from her hiding place instead? Would you be like Chinar (Vikash Bhai) and prioritise your children’s – and your friend’s children’s – safety over your own? Or would you be like Abhi (Anneika Rose) and furiously call your partner’s phone to leave voice messages, not thinking how the ringtone could possibly give their location away to the attackers? Or maybe you’d be like Miriam (Josette Simon), a calming figure that instantly uses her skills to help others.

Crossfire shows us that there’s no wrong or right answer when it comes to considering such an outrageous question but it’s one you’ll be left contemplating regardless. It’s what makes the series so stressful to watch, and paired with the piercing sound of gunshots, cries and a pervasive fear of what lurks around each corner, cements the first episode as one of the standout action thrillers on TV right now.

Episode one of Crossfire premieres tonight on BBC One and BBC iPlayer at 9pm, with the next two episodes airing consecutively on Wednesday and Thursday evening. 

Images: BBC

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