It’s DCI Caroline Goode’s first day in the job. In the time-honoured tradition of sexism in the workplace, her big promotion begins with a good-natured ribbing by the young male DS in her team. “You should show a bit more respect to your new boss,” bats back Goode, played by Keeley Hawes. “First job, day one,” says DS Andy Craig as they walk up a grim corridor to an office full of bulky computer monitors and predominantly white officers. “Let’s hope it’s a good one.” Goode firmly replies: “They’re all good ones.”
This is how Honour (ITV) opens. The lens is tightly focused not on the real-life case that follows – the rape, torture, and murder of 20-year-old Banaz Mahmod in 2006 by five members of her family – but on Goode’s laudable resolve to bring Mahmod’s killers to justice. For this, Honour has been criticised – which is understandable. A drama about “honour-based” violence set in the community and made by those who understand it has yet to be made, and 100% deserves to be greenlit. That doesn’t invalidate Honour, but it does raise the stakes on what we expect of it.
Thankfully, this is no white-saviour narrative. The central theme of Gwyneth Hughes’ taut and nuanced two-parter is the police force’s abject failure to protect a terrified British citizen who sought their help on five separate occasions. Yes, five. There are two deep-rooted cankers at work here: the misogyny that feeds “honour-based” violence in a small number of communities, and the racial bias and institutional racism that festers in the police force. Together they created the toxic brew that led to a young woman being murdered for kissing her boyfriend outside a tube station. For, as Banaz’s sister Bekhal puts it in a chilling scene, “wanting a life”.
In the opening episode, Goode discovers just how astronomically Banaz has been let down. Three days before she went missing, she handed in a list of suspects, all men in her family who she said were intent on killing her, and nothing was done. An officer who visited her in hospital after she had been attacked by her father called her “hysterical” and considered charging her with criminal damage to a broken window. There is even a videotape in which she calmly gives a statement in a police station: “That’s why I came. In the future, if anything happens to me … it’s them.” This is not some slightly far-fetched addition, by the way, created for the purposes of dramatisation. The videotape exists.
“How much more of their job did they want her to do for them?” asks Goode, tight-lipped and raging. “Maybe they’re as confused as I am,” DS Craig replies, “Too many names, gov.” The othering is so casual, so cumulatively insidious. In brief scenes like this, Hughes’ writing is a masterclass in showing rather than telling.
The interviews with Banaz’s family are, unfortunately, less convincing. Too rushed. Too undelineated. There should be more from Bekhal, who in many ways is the true hero of this story, and Rahmat, the broken boyfriend whose scenes are made all the more tragic by the knowledge that he ended his life a decade later. Likewise, Banaz’s parents, who remain trapped in their too-often-stereotyped roles as intransigent father and silent – perhaps silenced – mother.
Still, Honour possesses a quiet authenticity that comes partly from Hawes – her performance is a study in controlled anguish – and partly from the way it was brought to television. Both the real-life Goode and Bekhal, who has lived in witness protection since she helped the police with the prosecution, consulted on the production, and it shows, not least in the meeting in which the chief superintendent falls back on white liberalism as a justification for negligence: “We must avoid suggesting Kurdish men are unusually prone to honour killing.” Or when British Kurdish activist Diana Nammi tells Goode that the men in the community “will laugh when they hear the senior investigating officer is a woman”.
And when Goode calls in the female officer who refused to believe Banaz in hospital … and, surprise, surprise, wrote her name down incorrectly. “‘Attention-seeking, hysterical, self-harming,’” Goode yells at her. “Her own father had just tried to kill her, so … what the fuck?”
“How was I supposed to know?” the officer replies, cool as a cucumber. “I’ve had no training in honour violence.” She remains breathtakingly unrepentant. The scene ends with her saying she would do the same thing again, the injustice continuing.