Friday, 20 January 2012


Happened on this by chance (late night TV surfing), watched a big chunk in a somnolent state and then saw it again on LoveFilm (free with package. Thanks). Sus was originally a stage play, by Barrie Keefe, whose other works include the British gangster masterpiece The Long Good Friday. Two cops (brilliantly okayed by Ralph Brown and Rafe Spall) are interrogating a young black man (Clint Dyer) on the night of Mrs Thatcher's 1979 election victory. They are slavering with anticipation of good times ahead, proper support for the police, welfare scroungers clobbered and immigrants sent packing etc.

The suspect, Delroy, thinks he's there on 'Sus', the insidious law that allowed police to arrest people if they 'looked' suspicious. In fact his wife has died, and, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, they want him to confess to murder before morning. As is generally the case with stage plays on screen, you notice an unusual amount of talking, and the single room set. But what dramatic writing! The atmosphere of menace builds steadily, through modulations of rhythm and tone that stop it becoming monotonous. There's a horrible fascination in seeing what kind of mental torture the cops are going to come up with next. One of the most shocking moments is when Karn describes his happy marriage in affectionate detail to Delroy, who has just been told his wife has died in pain. Something quite Pinteresque about holding up a domestic detail - learning languages by linguaphone -  in an unusual light and making it a weapon.

It's more explicitly located in a specific historical moment than Pinter's dramas usually are, though. This is a condition of England play looking at the rise of the far right, the failure to integrate the immigrant population and the abuse of police power. We can see the Brixton riots just round the corner. It may depict things in quite a straightforward way, morally speaking, but it's not the job of dramatists to be social historians. In any case, tough cops of the era have been rather glamourised, in The Sweeney and latterly Life on Mars, and it was salutary to see something grittier. I sat there thinking, was it really like this in the 70s? Interrogations unrecorded, no duty solicitor? Presumably it was. Sus was written in 2010, perhaps as a way of suggesting connections between then and now. It certainly feels very topical, as debates on racism and immigration continue, and human rights abuses are committed in the name of the War on Terror.