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TV Review: Black Earth Rising

Netflix, Black Earth Rising, Drama, Politics, Thriller, John Goodman, Harriet Walker, BBC, Michaela Cole, Africa, War

SYNOPSIS: From London, to Paris to Rwanda, Black Earth Rising is a deeply personal journey about one woman’s persistent exploration to uncover her hidden past, at whatever the cost.

Netflix, Black Earth Rising, Drama, Politics, Thriller, John Goodman, Harriet Walker, BBC, Michaela Cole, Africa, War

REVIEW: The BBC Two drama Black Earth Rising has already aired in the UK but makes a global debut this month on Netflix. Like many BBC productions, this is a story that is very relevant and likely hits closer to home overseas compared to here in North America. With the biggest exposure to the genocide at the center of this series being the film HOTEL RWANDA, you can be excused for being unfamiliar with the subject matter. Still, this is a story that will keep you hooked and wondering why we don't hear more about the abhorrent crimes that have impacted these characters so deeply. While billed as a thriller, this series shares more in common with THE CONSTANT GARDENER than it does with THE BOURNE IDENTITY, but that doesn't make it any less thrilling. The problem is that the story itself never quite turns into what it should be.

At the center of Black Earth Rising is Kate Ashby (Michaela Cole) who herself is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide. Her story is key to tying together all of the disparate narrative elements of the story from her adoptive mother (Harriet Walter) who is prosecuting war criminal Simon Nyamoya (Danny Sapani) alongside Kate's mentor Michael Ennis (John Goodman). As a legal investigator, Kate has a knowledge of the legal ramifications of trying Nyamoya in a court of law but also has a personal stake as she views the miltiary veteran as a hero for saving victims of the genocide and helping bring it to an end. At the same time, her recent bout with depression and a suicide attempt make her a volatile personality. The stress of the trial hitting close to home put Kate on a path to try and exonerate Nyamoya herself.

What follows over the eight episode series is a story that blurs the line between what is right and wrong. We often view conflicts through hindsight and see it is good versus evil with little room for gray area. Early in the first episode, a character ponders how we would have viewed President Eisenhower being tried for war crimes committed during World War II. It is easy from the outside of a conflict to make judgement calls but not so much when it becomes your personal narrative. What makes Black Earth Rising so unique is getting a story told by someone within that gray area that sheds different lights on who the true heroes and villains are in the story. That is where the problem comes in: the story is good but never makes the leap from concept to reality and instead moves through eight hours without really benefiting from the diverse cast and global locales.

Writer/Director Hugo Blick (The Honourable Woman) has a great current event at the core of Black Earth Rising that is vitally important material for a series but he doesn't pull it together as well as it could have been. As good as lead Michaela Cole is, she is often saddled with cliche dialogue that brings down the intensity of several scenes. I was fascinated by her performance and wanted to know so much more about her youth, her relationship with her adoptive mother, and her quest to exhonerate Nyamoya, but with the ensemble cast here getting a short amount of time to tell a lot of story, we never get enough of Kate Ashby's internal tale. Blick wants Kate to be a symbol for non-African audiences to relate to and a gateway to understanding the impact that this genocide can have on the innocent swept up in violence, but she never feels like anything more than a character in a television show.

Netflix, Black Earth Rising, Drama, Politics, Thriller, John Goodman, Harriet Walker, BBC, Michaela Cole, Africa, War

There is a lot that is really good in Black Earth Rising that makes it worth watching. If anything, it is a timely enough story that you will learn a lot about the conflict and turn to your online resources to find out if the horrors these characters are talking are true. Unfortunately for millions, these events did happen and they deserve to be brought to light for a wide audience. As much as I enjoyed Black Earth Rising, it is not quite the right story to convey these atrocities as it misses the gravitas needed. As good as the actors are here, they deserved a less melodramatic and cliche script than they got. Luckily, star Michaela Cole has a nice chemistry with John Goodman and the pair save this from being just another offering on Netflix. It may not be the best new series of 2019, but it should have been.

Black Earth Rising premieres on Netflix on January 25, 2019.

Source: JoBlo.com

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