BBC1 turns the spotlight on spiralling house prices and neighbourly solidarity in new Toby Jones drama Capital

Ben Dowell is impressed by the new three-part drama that revolves around the residents of a London street receiving mysterious threats

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“We want what you have”. These are the words sent on beautiful printed notes and deposited anonymously through the letterboxes of the various characters of BBC1’s sparkling and hugely relevant new drama, Capital.

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Who is doing this and why? Is it, as one person suggests in the first episode of the three-part drama which starts tonight, “the Mansion Tax written by a hooligan”, a piece of suggestive agitprop?

Or is it a serious threat from someone who will take what these people have? Or simply an expression of desire? And what do they have? Do the mysterious notes refer to their properties on Pepys Road – spiralling in value thanks to the crazy London housing economy – or something else?

Adapted from the novel by John Lanchester, Peter Bowker’s script asks some very searching questions about modern Britain as the denizens of the now affluent London street deal with the notes and try to get on with their lives.

First there is banker Roger played with all the exquisite skill and humanity you expect from Toby Jones. He’s not the six-foot strapping banker of stereotype – he’s, well, Toby Jones, witty, vulnerable and rounded. The comfort of his lifestyle hides a lost soul.

Roger is married to Arabella, at first the most obvious target of Lanchester (and Bowker’s) satirical gaze, with her litany of middle class problems.

“Where do you stand vis-à-vis cedar wood cladding,” she asks the builders when we first meet her. Later she calls after her husband: “Don’t suppose you managed to pick up the pomegranate molasses did you?” Peter Bowker clearly relished writing these lines, but his gaze is not always scornful. 

Yes, there are websites dedicated to these kind of hilarious outbursts, but in Rachael Stirling (reunited with her Detectorists co-star Jones) we have a performer finely attuned to the nuances, the hurt, vulnerability and difficulties of a woman in her situation. 

I also liked Arabella’s riposte to her husband: “I am no feminist, Roger, but a lecture on thrift does not constitute foreplay. Ever!”. There was something wonderfully Lady Bracknellish about that.

Also living on the street are the Kamals, a Muslim family who run the local corner shop. They are a richly drawn, highly believable mixture of personalities – the kindly Dad, the religious son, his more modern brother and so on, who gather round the table at dinner time. This is a drama that isn’t afraid to see where life may take them, and in the case of one of them it could be the path of radicalism…

Also living on Pepys Road is Gemma Jones’ Petunia an elderly lonely woman who has just been diagnosed with a brain tumour and spends a lot of her time sitting and chatting in the Kamals’ shop. She is obviously lonely. And there is Quentina (Wunmi Mosaku), a Zimbabwean immigrant whose legal right to live in this country is under threat but who prides herself on her work and her Christian faith. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a sympathetic traffic warden in British TV before now.

This is for the most part a very believable London (except for the summery trees bedecked with leaves during a scene purporting to be Christmas). It shows Londoners trying to work out very real problems. It’s a world were people who think they lead very separate lives are shown to be very connected – often without wanting it.

And as you expect from Bowker (writer of the Bafta-winning Marvellous), there is a fierce intelligence at work here, a script which asks some very interesting and important questions but doesn’t force the answers down your throat. 

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Capital is due to start on BBC1 in November