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Crossfire review: Keeley Hawes turns gun-toting saviour in gripping thriller

Who says that action heroes can’t be middle-aged mums?

Keeley Hawes in Crossfire
BBC / Dancing Ledge Productions/Luke Varley
Published: Tuesday, 20th September 2022 at 10:00 pm
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A star rating of 4 out of 5.

“We think it goes in a straight line, time,” Keeley Hawes' ex-cop Jo narrates ominously over images of rooftop pools and cerulean skies in Crossfire’s opening scene. “Until something happens that’s so big it stops time and you realise that everything that happened before was leading up to that moment and everything that happens after, if there is an after, happens because of it.”

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Co-produced by its leading lady, the gripping new three-part drama is full of similar meditations on the fragility of life, understandably so considering how a couple of rampaging gunmen have just turned her relaxing friends and family getaway into a shocking bloodbath from which they’re unlikely to ever recover.

The reliably terrific Hawes plays Jo, a forty-something mother of three and chief planner of a Canary Islands trip for her nearest and dearest. Multiple flashbacks to a joyous New Year’s Eve party show how close her friendship group is, perhaps a little too close in some cases.

And while Jo and her husband Jason (Lee Ingleby) are prone to having passive-aggressive arguments at the communal dinner table, everyone else appears to be having a great time. Until, that is, the sounds of gunshot start reverberating around the packed swimming pool.

There are echoes of The Impossible, the disaster film in which Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts’ idyllic holiday is hit by the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami, in how Crossfire suddenly switches from the picture of tranquility to the height of sheer terror. Be prepared: the five minutes of confusion that follow provide perhaps the most gut-punching, tension-fuelled scene you’re likely to see on the Beeb all year.

As terrified holidaymakers make split-second life-or-death decisions – some hide under sunbeds for cover, others attempt to outrun the masked intruders – Jo is in the relative safety of her upper-floor hotel room having just been sexting with a mystery man. Knowing her loved ones’ lives are at stake, though, and perhaps with her husband’s sneering words from the night before still ringing in her ears (“It’s definitely been a long time since you ran after anyone”), she quickly springs into action.

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In contrast to Bodyguard, the last time she took centre stage in a BBC One drama, Hawes gets to play protector rather than protected. The actress recently admitted that Jo is the most gruelling role of her career, particularly for having to carry a rifle around a Tenerife holiday complex for days on end.

Yet it’s the fact Hawes isn’t your average action hero that makes her character’s quest all the more believable. There aren’t any badass Lara Croft-esque double pistol moves here. Jo’s police background means she knows how to use a gun. Yet even when coming face to face with the enemy, she can be reluctant to use it.

Anneika Rose as Abhi and Keeley Hawes as Jo in Crossfire.
Anneika Rose as Abhi and Keeley Hawes as Jo in Crossfire. BBC / Dancing Ledge Productions

With the armed response unit, conveniently for plot purposes, at least half-an-hour away, it’s Jo and the Spanish hotel manager (Hugo Silva) who are essentially tasked with keeping the two shooters at bay. Luckily, Crossfire is just as compelling when it moves away from all their tentative pacing of corridors. Indeed, best-known for penning the novel Apple Tree Yard, writer Louise Doughty generously gives many of the central group – which also includes Pandora’s Vikash Bhai, The Bay’s Daniel Ryan and Line of Duty’s Anneika Rose – the chance to play the hero too.

One parent heads back into the thick of the gunfire after losing a child during the panicked evacuation. Another risks their own life to save a wounded hotel employee. Not every quick-thinking moment pays off, with one foolish late-in-the-day call likely to leave you shouting at the screen in frustration. However, the majority ring true for a bunch of everyday people who suddenly find themselves in the most horrifying peril imaginable.

Interestingly, Crossfire doesn’t place too much emphasis on the perpetrators. A brief seaside conversation before all the carnage and a background news report are as much information we get about their motive. And although there are a few wince-inducing scenes, it doesn’t focus heavily on the bloodshed they create either. One of the most impactful shots is simply of a mobile phone ringing on an empty deckchair alongside a half-read newspaper wafting in the wind – an eerie sign of the final seconds of calm before the storm.

After two episodes of often overwhelming nail-biting tension, viewers will find the third and final either a much-needed breather or anti-climactic. Still, as the drama shifts towards the aftermath, and the guilt, grief and press intrusion that follows the survivors home, the impressive cast get the chance to do more than scream and cower, none more so than when one tawdry secret finally gets spilled.

Crossfire isn’t your typical ‘stripped across the weeknight’ drama. It can be harrowing and heart-wrenching and it asks you to consider all kinds of impossible questions about instinct, vengeance and self-sacrifice. But its intensity, anchored by Hawes’ brilliantly resilient performance, never fails to transfix.

Crossfire continues on BBC One on Wednesday 21st September at 9pm with episodes available to watch now on iPlayer – check out our Drama hub for all the latest news.

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