Warning: Contains mild spoilers for parts one and two of Honour
The heartrending true story of Banaz Mahmod, the young Londoner murdered by her own family in a so-called 'honour' killing, is the subject of ITV’s dark new drama starting tonight.
Banaz was an Iraqi-Kurdish woman, described as having a sweet and gentle personality. She and her family fled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and came to the UK when Banaz was 10 years old. By 20, she was dead. After being coerced into an abusive marriage, Banaz divorced and fell in love with her boyfriend Rahmat. That relationship sparked the murder of Banaz and eventually of Rahmat, too.
For Honour, a two-part series airing on Monday and Tuesday, writer Gwyneth Hughes has chosen to tell the story through the eyes of no-nonsense Detective Chief Inspector Caroline Goode (Goode is now retired but consulted on the show).
Episode one begins with Goode (played by Keeley Hawes) and we stay firmly by her side throughout the dogged mission to uncover what happened to Banaz and bring her killers to justice. There’s no doubting the dedication of our detective and her team but we soon learn that Banaz had made contact with the police five times to report threats to her life from members of her own family. She even provided them with a list of names of the men she suspected would eventually kill her. Each time she was ignored.
And so the investigation becomes something of a personal quest for DCI Goode. Hawes has major acting chops but at times is a bit too ardent in her portrayal of the real-life detective. There are at least a dozen scenes involving Hawes pulling a concerned face with downturned mouth and furrowed brow. It becomes a little distracting – grating even – especially when precious little screen time is devoted to Banaz (played by Buket Komur).
You can understand the issues with telling such a dark story (involving rape, torture and murder) from Banaz’s viewpoint – especially on a commercial network like ITV – but there are still ways to centre the victim while creating something audiences will be able to sit through. Admittedly, Banaz’s story has been told before (in Deeyah Khan’s 2012 documentary Banaz: A Love Story) but in Honour she feels sidelined. The team behind the show’s objective – to bring the underreported issue of these crimes to the masses – is noble but you still have to ask, who is the right person to tell the story here?
In fact, all the non-white characters take a back seat in this telling. Banaz’s distraught boyfriend Rahmat hardly features at all. We are told practically nothing about their love story (which they were both willing to die for) other than that they were once seen kissing outside a Tube station.
The suspects (Banaz’s uncle, ex-husband and father among them) have short scenes as does Kurdish activist, Diana Nammi (played by Ahd Kamel) but Banaz’s back story is underexplored and we only see Buket Komur (the young actress who plays Banaz) a handful of times. The tributary themes of this tragic story – including immigration, Islam, domestic violence and the issue of what happens when cultural differences become crimes – are left to run dry.
Despite Goode being positioned as the hero here, the police failure to prevent Banaz’s death is exposed, alongside some subtler nods to institutional racism. (One policewoman complains that all the suspects’ names sound the same. "You will not believe how many Kurdish Mohammad Alis there are in south London," she says.)
There is one incredible scene when Goode confronts the female officer who completely ignored the signs that Banaz was in danger when she was admitted to hospital after an attempt on her life and actually tried to book Banaz for criminal damage to the window she broke while trying to escape. It’s a genuinely baffling, bang-your-head-against-the-wall moment of frustration when the policewoman refuses to admit wrongdoing and doubles down, saying she’d act the same way if it happened again.
Despite this, the episodes succeed in shedding some light on so-called 'honour' killings. In one telling scene, Banaz’s boyfriend says: "The last man on Earth for a girl to marry is the man she says she loves… Even by saying 'love' she has done something forbidden." Later, one of the suspects tells his lawyer: "In my own country I have done justice. If I ever go home they will greet me as a hero."
While the perspective might be skewed here, the dramatisation of the hunt for Banaz’s killers is tense and the story moves at a decent pace. There’s no weak link in the cast and it succeeds in its aim: to bring awareness to these crimes. But while DCI Goode’s tenacity is admirable, it’s hard not to think that the real hero here is Banaz’s sister Bekhal (played brilliantly by Rhianne Barreto). The real-life Bekhal is now living under witness protection and it is only halfway through the final episode that her role becomes central. Having escaped her family, shown the courage to testify against them and risked her life – twice – it’s a pity we don’t get to hear more of her story.
Honour starts on ITV on Monday 28th September at 9pm and concludes on Tuesday 29th September