• Archie Punjabi stars alongside Jack Davenport in Next of Kin. (SBS)Source: SBS
When a family member appears to become radicalised, a UK doctor discovers that everything’s personal in the world of international terrorism.
By
Tony Morris

30 Apr 2018 - 10:44 AM  UPDATED 4 May 2018 - 1:04 PM

Mona Harcourt (Archie Panjabi) is a hardworking GP at a London practice. Meanwhile in Pakistan, her older brother Kareem (Navin Chowdry) is just finishing up a five-month stint working as a relief doctor. The only drama in Mona’s life – especially now that her husband Guy (Jack Davenport) has just sealed a big energy contract – is rescuing her mother (Shabana Azmi) from a council estate’s faulty lift. But as her extended family puts together a welcome home party for Kareem, things start to shift.

First Kareem misses his flight home. Then while she’s racing to West London for the welcome back party, a terrorist bombing in London leaves Mona stranded. It is then revealed that Kareem was abducted by gunmen on his way to the airport. On its own, his fate is bad enough, but where in all this is his son Danny (Viveik Kalra)? He missed a meeting with his cousin and all his calls are going to voicemail. Is his absence from his own father’s welcome home party the act of a spiteful teenager? Or is it possible that he might have been involved in the bombing... or even what happened to his father?

Making a series centred around an apparently radicalised Muslim teenager is a chance to look at terrorism from an angle rarely explored – the family of the young men who seem to leave behind everything they’ve known to kill for a cause. Next of Kin doesn’t let this opportunity slip by. Across the Shirani family, the reactions to both the bombing and Danny’s disappearance are mixed. It seems Guy already knew Danny and Kareem had become estranged, without knowing exactly why, while the grandmother (the only member of the family who’s deeply religious) may know more about Danny’s whereabouts than she’s letting on.

It’s Mona who takes it upon herself to find out what really happened to both her brother and his son, and her search for answers involves more than just checking Danny’s online search history. For one thing, the Muslim family of a suspected terrorist faces intense scrutiny from the UK security forces; for another Mona isn’t someone willing to let others take care of a family problem, setting out on a quest that’ll take her half way around the world and back again over the course of these six episodes.

If you remember Archie Panjabi from her Emmy award-winning turn in The Good Wife as Kalinda Sharma, hard-boiled investigator and knee-high boots expert, you know one thing she’s great at projecting is determination. It’s something she needs to project often here: Mona might be a UK GP, but she’s already neck-deep in global terrorism by episode two, and with the amount of bullets flying around it’s a pretty safe bet her medical skills are going to come in handy. The supporting cast is strong too: Jack Davenport has real chemistry with Panjabi in their all-too-rare scenes together (he’s given an international trade subplot to keep him occupied), while Viveik Kalra is increasingly impressive across the series as the conflicted Danny.

There’s no shortage of terrorism-based thrillers at the moment, but Next of Kin’s focus on family – and how the bonds between family members make them both stronger and more vulnerable – makes it truly distinctive. Take the sorrow Mona and her family feel upon hearing the news of Kareem’s fate in the series’ opening episode. Seeing these characters (which until now have been joking and messing about like any other happy family) swept up by a near-wordless grief as they realise the depths of the horror they’re faced with is a truly wrenching moment, and one that underlies everything that follows.

Often in this type of series it’s easy to dismiss these early scenes as simply a way to get the story moving. Here it’s clear that whatever happens, these moments of grief and loss will always be at the core of what Mona does. And while the mix of the personal and the geopolitical might seem a little too convenient in another kind of thriller, it could all too easily become a variation on an action movie’s “this time it’s personal”. But as Next of Kin shows us in the fallout of this kind of terrorism, the personal and the political are often intertwined.

 

Next of Kin screens on SBS at 9:30pm on Thursday 3 May. You can also watch episodes anytime after broadcast on SBS On Demand.

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