Complicit, Channel 4’s much-hyped thriller about the war on terror and the moral questions surrounding the use of torture, scored poorly in the Sunday-night ratings battle last night, with fewer than a million viewers watching the feature-length drama according to overnight figures.
C4’s questionable decision to air Complicit, which starred David Oyelowo and Arsher Ali, in the prestige Sunday 9pm berth seems to have backfired. Only 790,000 people saw it between 9pm and 10.55pm, a 4% share of the audience for that slot. That compares to 4.7m and 19% for BBC1’s Ripper Street at 9-10pm and 6.1m people (25%) in the same slot for ITV’s Mr Selfridge, which despite an often hostile critical reception continues to do well with viewers.
Channel 4’s average for the 9-10pm slot is, according to Broadcast magazine, 1.85m viewers – and while a reduced post-10pm audience may have brought down Complicit’s overall viewership it can’t account for such a low percentage share across its entire slot, the latter part of which saw it up against national news on BBC1 and ITV1, followed by Room 101 and FA Cup highlights, respectively.
Complicit, written by Guy Hibbert, might have expected to fare better given the number of positive reviews it received. The first came from Alison Graham in Radio Times magazine: she wrote that “it will leave you as drained as if you’d sat through countless car chases… [it] is layered with moral ambiguity and asks raw questions about justice, expediency and the use of torture.”
Sam Wollaston in The Guardian agreed, calling Complicit “television for now” and adding that it was “a classy piece of work, a tense, stifling, understated, intelligent thriller, beautifully performed, beautifully crafted and beautiful to look at”.
In The Times, Andrew Billen said the programme “opened the imaginative retina, not only to the arguments around torture but to the dulling practicalities of espionage”. Billen called the scenes between MI5 officer Oyelowo and terror suspect Ali “pitch-perfect”.
Matt Baylis of the Daily Express said Complicit was “a brilliant bit of TV storytelling… subtle, thoughtful and grown-up”.
Thoughtful, grown-up viewers will, Channel 4 will hope, catch up with Complicit on 4oD, where it is now available.