The director of Channel 4’s new series Baghdad Central has urged audiences not to let “commissioners dumb down” television drama, insisting that the British TV landscape needs to incorporate “international stories”.
Set in 2003, shortly after the US invasion of Iraq, Baghdad Central follows Iraqi ex-policeman Muhsin al-Khafaji (Waleed Zuaiter) as he searches for his missing daughter and is later recruited by British ex-officer Frank Temple (Bertie Carvel).
Speaking at a BFI screening, director Alice Troughton said that it is “very possible” the series could continue into at least a second series, but added that viewers first needed to tune in and prove that “there’s an appetite for international drama”.
“I think it would be very inspiring to have a second series – it would make it not feel like a gimmick,” Troughton said. “But we need people to watch it, and we need an appetite for it.
“Do not let commissioners dumb down to you, do not let them spoon-feed you the old thrillers. We need international stories, we are a global world, we need to unite in our storytelling.”
If Baghdad Central is a ratings hit, executive producer Kate Harwood revealed she already has thoughts about what a second series might involve – the true-life allegations that billions of dollars of US government funds, originally meant for reconstruction and rebuilding, were misappropriated during the Iraq War.
“The Americans brought pallets and pallets of box fresh dollars into Iraq and by the time they handed back to Iraq in 2005, there were billions unaccounted for,” Harwood said. “Where there’s money, there’s crime, and where there’s crime, there’s crime drama! That’s my pitch for series two!”
Written by Stephen Butchard (The Last Kingdom, House of Saddam), Baghdad Central is a dual-language drama, with characters speaking both English and Arabic (with subtitles) – and while that’s not so unusual, certain scenes also take the approach of having the cast speak English when their characters are intended to be speaking Arabic.
Explaining the mixture of different approaches, Butchard said, “We thought long and hard about where we should draw the line… and we decided, this was a Channel 4 commission so we can’t ignore the English language.”
Executive producer Harwood added: “There is by far the most ‘English-for-Arabic’ in episode one – after that, the dual language kicks in much more, because Khafaji ends up going into an anglophone world – it’s no spoiler to say he ends up working for the Brits and the Americans, and so he has to speak English.
“But at the same time, because he’s actually out on the streets of Iraq doing some proper detecting, he’s speaking Arabic.”
The first episode, though, features introductory scenes for Khafaji and his family, with the decision being taken to play these out in English for the audience, even though the characters are understood to be conversing in their native language.
“It was always about being tentative of the way we discovered the family,” Harwood explained. “We didn’t want to make our nuclear family ‘other’ for an English-speaking audience.”
Baghdad Central continues Channel 4 at 10pm on Mondays