Crossfire review: The waste of Keeley Hawes’s talent is the biggest tragedy in this terrorism drama

How many bad shows can a good actor star in before you have to start considering the possibly uncomfortable reality that they are, in fact, a bad actor? Well, this is an experiment that Keeley Hawes seems to be undertaking. Her second project of the year, after a middling adaptation of The Midwich Cuckoos, is the BBC’s new drama, Crossfire, written by Apple Tree Yard’s Louise Doughty. It finds Hawes trapped in a Spanish holiday resort as baby-faced gunmen go on the rampage. If her agent was looking for a project to make The Bodyguard look cerebral, boy did they find it.

Hawes is Jo, wife of Jason (Lee Ingleby) and mother of Adam (Noah Leggott) and Amara (Shalisha James-Davis). She’s just arrived on holiday with two other couples: Vikash Bhai’s Chinar and Anneika Rose’s Abhi (“Mr and Mrs Perfect,” as the group knows them), and Miriam (Josette Simon) and Ben (Daniel Ryan). The trip is a disaster from the off: Jo and Jason’s relationship is still recovering from an affair she’s conducted, while Jason is trying to bully his wife into not returning to her high-flying career as – you guessed it – a police officer. “You are a fundamentally dishonest and cowardly human being,” Jason tells her, within earshot of their entire group. All very awkward.

The vast majority of terror attacks are conducted in areas of high socio-political volatility. In 2022, for example, the deadliest shootings have been in Nigeria, Mali and Pakistan. But, needless to say, that sort of violence is not what Western TV audiences want. Instead, we demand a telegenic set of Brits stranded in a holiday resort, surrounded by gunmen with obscure (and, crucially, non-ideological) grievances. The shootings start by the pool, in a sequence that is effectively horrifying in its depiction of parents dragging children to safety while bodies fall around them. But once we’ve regained our bearings, the action develops a high-stakes, almost video-game quality. “We have to kill them before they kill us,” the hotel manager Mateo (Hugo Silva) tells Jo, which does not strike me as a very sensible approach to take.

It is symptomatic of Crossfire’s general silliness. The resort is on an island inexplicably cut off from the emergency services, allowing most of the drama – in three hour-long episodes – to play out before armed police intervene. Jo is an ex-copper and Miriam a doctor, allowing the Brits to become protagonists and order around a bunch of humble, mewling Spaniards. Of course, the terror attack is really just a prop designed to expose how unhappy these couples truly are. “Take my phone with you,” Jo instructs Jason. “Get out of the hotel right now!” Naturally, this allows the sexy world of infidelity to collide with the unsexy world of terrorism (really, the whole first episode is a sexting whodunit).

Crossfire is hardly the first case of Western holidaymakers fighting for survival (it evokes shades of Naomi Watts in tsunami thriller The Impossible, Armie Hammer in Hotel Mumbai’s take on the city’s 2008 attacks, and even Sheridan Smith’s sexual assault in a Turkish resort in the ITV legal procedural No Return). Perhaps it is the fictionalisation of Crossfire that allows it to play out like a zombie survival movie rather than a gritty drama. “Do you know how to use a gun?” Jo is asked, giving her licence to spend the rest of proceedings bursting round corners with a shotgun. The result is, unsurprisingly, rather crass.

All the same, Hawes is as gripping as an action star as she is when portraying a politician, or an aristocrat, or a character from Dickens. Indeed, the mere presence of Hawes orientates viewers. In an unreliable world, she is a reliable constant. But her need for better scripts is now reaching crisis point, because even in a project in which dozens of tourists are being murdered, the waste of her talent is the biggest tragedy.