“Oh,” I thought, when I began to watch Collision, the new film offering on PBS’s Masterpiece Contemporary, “This looks like a TV version of Crash or Intersection.” But as the story unfolded in flashbacks and real time, I could not wait to see how the rest of this mystery about a six-car crash on the A-12 highway outside of London would develop. I watched nearly four hours of the screener in one sitting, sacrificing a perfectly lovely autumn afternoon for the sake of seeing the story uninterrupted from start to end. As PBS describes the plot:
Six cars collide on a superhighway outside London, leaving death, shattered lives, and profound mysteries. Why did some live and others die? Why did one driver disappear before rescuers got to him? And how will survivors, relatives, and others cope with a wrenching event that has unexpectedly far-reaching consequences?
With a less talented director than Marc Evans, the convoluted story line could have turned into a melodramatic mess, but restrained acting and clear direction take this film to a satisfying but not too treacly a conclusion. There were a few story lines that seemed over the top, especially the one involving the mother-in-law, which seemed a bit off and was not needed to drive the plot.
I agree with the reviewer who said that the plot of Collision reminded him of the old 70’s films, Airport and Hotel, in which viewers learn details about the characters’ lives that are only peripheral to the crash itself. Why the crash happened is the mystery. How the people involved in the crash came to converge at the same time on that highway is the real story. Superimposed on top of these story lines is the back story of John Tolin, the police officer placed in charge of the investigation. The father of Alice Jackson, the young black woman who died, is suing the department for racism, and John must find out if police chasing a speeding BMW with the black couple inside it caused her death. As John follows leads, he is haunted by his wife’s death in a car crash and his daughter’s injury, and he is increasingly unable to separate his emotions from his work.
Douglas Henshall, who plays John Tolin, has the perfect face for this role: careworn, weary, sleep-deprived, and sad. He is forced to investigate the crash with former lover, Ann Stallwood (Kate Ashfield), who is equally uncomfortable with the idea of working alongside him.
Add a young waitress who yearns for a better life, a piano teacher with a PAST, a mother-in-law from hell, a woman who has stolen company secrets, a man whose disappearance during the crash hides an awful secret, and you have the recipe for five hours of great TV. Many reviewers were not as kindly disposed towards this series as I am, but I have always secretly harbored a love for melodramatic films like Airport, Hotel, Backdraft, and The Poseidon Adventure. (Please do not share this awkward fact with others.)
People who missed watching the first episode or who want to see it again, will have two weeks to view it online on PBS’s site. The series concludes on Sunday, November 22.
- Watch a video interview with the cast in this YouTube clip:
More on the topic:
- Video interviews with the cast of Collision
- PBS Collision: Masterpiece Contemporary
- NY Times Review
- Review: Twin Cities.com