Numerous films and television series have examined the war on terrorism, but Informer takes an angle not frequently seen: the relationship between an informer and the counterterrorism officer who acts as their handler.
Produced by Neal Street Productions for BBC One, Informer will become available on Amazon Prime Video in the U.S. following the U.K. broadcast. The six-part character-driven thriller focuses on Raza, a young Pakistani man from East London. A good son at home, when outside, his chameleon-like personality allows him to adapt to all sorts of situations. This ability captures the attention of Gabe, a member of London’s counterterrorism police, who coerces Raza into becoming a confidential informant who spies on his community. This relationship served as the kernel of the idea for Informer, which was written by Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani. The series will premiere on BBC One on October 16.
“We wanted [to focus on] this relationship between the informer and the handler,” explains Noshirvani. “We had seen a lot of TV shows and movies dealing with terrorism, and we realized they often get it wrong in terms of who actually puts their lives on the line. So, [we wanted to explore] the fascinating power balance in that relationship.”
“We also wanted to take on the war on terror but approach it from a very ground-level perspective,” continues Noshirvani, “not of people in the war rooms but of people who are affected by the decisions made in those war rooms, both on the civilian side and the police side.”
Haines explains that from the conception of the idea to getting the series made took five years, and much of that time was spent doing research. “We spoke to multitudes of police officers and people in the services, but we also talked to people who had gone through the system. The script was taken from real life.”
And the script wound up with Julie Pastor, who is responsible for film and television development at Neal Street Productions, which is owned by all3media. She then passed it on to her colleague at Neal Street, Nicolas Brown, who serves as executive producer on Informer with Pastor and Sam Mendes. “We both really liked the writing and that is what you respond to,” says Brown. “It doesn’t happen that often that you read something from people who you don’t really know at all and you get that excited. The show was originally set in the U.S. We had a conversation about relocating it to the U.K.
“We worked up a treatment and we pitched it to two broadcasters in the U.K. that we thought would be the best possible homes—the BBC and Sky,” continues Brown. “They both loved it and really wanted it, which is always a nice position to be in. We felt the BBC would allow Informer to be the show it needed to be and also, very importantly, they would put it on BBC One, which we always felt was the right place for it. We were excited by the way Informer [reflected] the war on terror and said so much about what’s going on in the world, but did it with incredible humanity and via a family, and that’s what made it feel so fresh and different.”
As Brown explains, Informer fits into Neal Street’s portfolio of TV series, which includes Penny Dreadful, Call the Midwife, The Hollow Crown and Britannia. “We are quite boutique and specific about what we do,” he says. “But we try to find people whose talent we admire to work with, and we have to feel then that whatever we are doing we really love. We like to make mainstream shows but with high production values, really high-quality talent and something that doesn’t feel like it’s been done before.”
Another aspect of Informer that makes it unique is that all six episodes were directed by the same person, Jonny Campbell, who was attracted to the project by the multitude of themes and subjects in the script.
“It’s not about just one thing,” says Campbell. “It was ambitious on that front. The dialogue was textual; it wasn’t expositional. The plot came through by osmosis and the interaction of the characters. It was funny and yet had challenging moments when you see that Raza’s experience is going to have a cataclysmic effect on this family. It was special.”
As Julian Stevens, who served as producer, explains, the production team didn’t want to build a studio. “Everything was shot on location, which gave vibrancy and authenticity to the series,” he says. “Filming in London is always a challenge, it’s not as film-friendly as New York. It was daunting because the heart of the show was portraying a very busy part of London. A film crew showing up with a lot of trailers and equipment can destroy the very thing you are trying to capture.”
Aiming for authenticity and high production values may be time-consuming but they are the qualities that attract talent, and there is a premium on talent these days.
“There is an enormous number of people developing and selling ideas and wanting to make television shows,” says Brown. “So it feels very competitive to find the talent you want to work with. You try to make yourselves and your company a place where people like to work. When talent works with us, they will come back again. We have long-term relationships with a lot of people that we work with—not exclusive, but long-term—and we try to make the experiences as good as possible. We believe that if you do that, then you have a chance of getting the best results.”