There are few television dramas that hit you with an "oh, damn" moment in the first five minutes. BBC Two’s new drama Black Earth Rising does.
We’re thrust into an interview with Eve Ashby (played by Harriet Walter), a leading international criminal law prosecutor, who is being questioned on her "self-righteous Western paternalism" by a black student in the audience.
"African problems deserve African solutions," he tells her. "And it may help you to know that my daughter is black, and she was born in Africa," Eve offers. "It doesn’t," he retorts. It’s here that the tension hits before you’ve had time to register who any of these characters even are. It’s here, in the first five minutes, that you nestle a little lower in your seat, eyes wide in anticipation that damn, this is going to be interesting.
Black Earth Rising focuses on the unresolved aftermath of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. An estimated 800,000 people were killed in about 100 days. Though the eight-part series and the characters in it are fictional, the story, which follows the prosecution of international war crimes, draws on rooted tension between Africa and the West. It's a weighty topic that will undoubtedly, hopefully, ripple through our current consciousness about a history that's probably unfamiliar to many of us.
At the centre of this complicated quest for justice is one woman. Kate, played by Chewing Gum's Michaela Coel, is Eve's aforementioned daughter. She survived the genocide and was adopted by Eve as a young child. Now in her late 20s, she works as a legal investigator at her mother's chambers (alongside barrister Michael Ennis, played by Roseanne's John Goodman) and when the Rwanda case arrives on their doorstep in the first episode, friction between Kate and her mother throws their relationship out of balance.
The series is as much about Kate's heartrending search for identity as it is about the wider quest for justice for the massacre of almost a million people. The narrative is elaborate, and you'll find yourself trying to piece together parts of the story before knowing what the story even is. Needless to say, there are some deep and troubling secrets about Kate and Eve's past to unearth. There's guilt, there's obligation and there's a level of tension that drives the plot at a pace you'll be desperate to keep up with. Be ready to settle in for eight hours of one of the most gripping thrillers we've seen on UK television in a long time.
Black Earth Rising is on BBC Two on Monday 10th September at 9pm