The Capture: A BBC thriller of surveillance, distortion and duplicity

Review: The Capture presents a troubling take on anxiety, distrust and ‘deep fake’ videos

Is it unusual that a writer and director of TV drama would be so suspicious about the power of images? Or does working in an industry of media and manipulation make one wary in the first place? Whatever the case, Ben Chanan has never seemed particularly comfortable with what he sees.

His film Blackout imagined a chaotic Britain without a power grid, told with a scavenger hunt of found footage. Cyberbully and The People Next Door imagined both victims and sleuths on either end of surreptitious camera lenses. Now The Capture (BBC One, Tuesday, 10.35pm), a drama of surveillance, distortion and duplicity, conceives of a world that judges things by appearance, and where appearances are mostly deceptive.

We begin in a room teeming with screens, manned by professional watchers. Here, one security employee witnesses a man in military uniform canoodling with a civilian on CCTV, before her face betrays something more disturbing, which we do not see.

Doubling back to earlier in the day, a boyish British soldier named Shaun (Callum Turner), court marshalled for shooting an Afghan prisoner, appeals a conviction secured on the evidence of helmet-cam footage. An expert explains the problem of “drift”, where the film’s soundtrack has fallen out of sync with its imagery, making it seem incriminating.


Properly synchronised, they catch his drift, abruptly exonerate him, and Shaun returns to society where he can reunite with his family, and pursue the hope of canoodling with his hot barrister in front of a CCTV camera. No surprises for guessing that this time the image, much more incriminating but no more trustworthy, will catch up with him.

The Capture, a serviceable but glib thriller, has its own problems with images. That’s partly to do with applying an escapist aesthetic to an apparently gritty drama, in which everything from the cast to the surveillance tech is suspiciously smooth and good looking. It’s also because the show sees itself in the image of another, namely last year’s Bodyguard, a slick pulse-quickener about safety, media and military guilt.

The Capture presents itself as both troubling and timely, against a broad anxiety around “deep fake” videos and generalised distrust. But, in its breathless hurry to suggest complicated conspiracy before any sharper details have been established, it’s own picture isn’t clear yet. (Like Shaun, it’s hard to judge.)

At least, in the background of shots, someone is having a dark bit of fun. “Climate Bill Defeated,” reads a news broadcast chyron in one shot, a depressingly believable incident of people acting against more conspicuous, incontrovertible evidence. Seeing isn’t always believing.