Honour, at least in its first episode, reframes a real-life tragedy as a vehicle for a misty-eyed Keeley Hawes. It’s good, but it could have been so much better were it a touch more insightful.
This recap of Honour episode 1, “Part One”, contains spoilers.
Honour, a two-part drama on ITV, is ostensibly about Banaz Mahmod, a 20-year-old Iraqi Kurdish woman from South London who fled an abusive arranged marriage, fell in love with another man and was viciously tortured and killed for it on the orders of her father and uncle. It’s a strikingly sad true-crime tale that exposes how many cultures still treat the subjugation of women as some kind of divine writ, though it’s careful to have real-life women’s activist Diana Nammi (Ahd Kamel) put the matter thusly: “Sikhs, Pakistanis, Turks, Kurds – there are men from these cultures who bring their frozen values to this country. And, by the way, there is no honour in it.”
“Frozen values” is a lovely turn of phrase, and this opening hour isn’t shy about attributing the notion of honour killings specifically to an immigrant culture – a provocative thing, given England’s current political climate. It highlights, also, how Banaz had gone to the police for help on several occasions and never received any; another daring choice considering the current relationship between the police and the public they purport to serve.
But writer Gwyneth Hughes has also elected to approach the case from the perspective of DCI Caroline Goode (Keeley Hawes), the copper who eventually brought the killers to justice and was rightly awarded for doing so. But this decision makes a footnote of Banaz (Buket Komur) in her own story. On at least three occasions, the camera takes in Hawes’s face as her eyes fill with tears – one of those occasions is during a taped testimony from Banaz herself. You can’t help but feel like we’re approaching this from the wrong angle.
Banaz’s appearance plays like a cameo, which can’t help but sit uncomfortably. We’re told in great detail what happened to her, both during her arranged marriage and her death. The details are horrifying, especially in light of the testimony from figures whose job is to inform the audience how normalized this kind of thing is in certain quarters of Banaz’s culture. Framing these horrors as things for the show’s star to react to reads as disrespect, intentional or otherwise.
None of this is to say that Honour episode 1 isn’t well-intentioned, nor that Goode’s role in catching the killers wasn’t a vital one. But there are so many television shows starring Keeley Hawes that this quickly begins to feel like just another of them when it should really feel like something much more searing and specific.
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Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.