Wan Phing Lim

Writer . Editor . Author

Moses Jones on BBC2

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Moses Jones is a new drama shown on BBC Two, aired on Monday nights at 9pm. It tells the story of Detective Inspector Moses Jones (Shaun Parkes) and DS Dan Twentyman (Matt Smith) who are assigned to a case of a brutally mutilated body discovered in the Thames. All evidence suggests ritual killing at first but their investigation takes them deeper into the Ugandan immigrant community riddled with gang violence and prostitution.

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Matt Smith and Shaun Parkes play detectives in new BBC Two drama Moses Jones

Moses is taken out of a 2-year case he came so close to solving to be put on the case by his superiors at Scotland Yard, simply because of his ethnic heritage and presumed cultural links with the community.

Writer and executive producer Joe Penhall said: “Moses Jones is about the complexity of humanity and the assumptions that make us who we are – and who we aren’t.

“Cultural assumptions are blunt instruments, they tend to be simplistic and dangerous – yet still we cling to them, particularly in this country.”

Filmed entirely in London over last summer, the story is told over three 60-minute episodes and boasts a very diverse cast with the likes of Eamonn Walker, Dennis Waterman, Indira Varma, Jude Akuwudike, Wunmi Mosaku and Obi Abili.

Below is a conversation between Moses and his superior, Dick Catherwood (Tom Goodman-Hill), who shows him a picture of the murdered man and immediately assigns him to the case. This excerpt is from Episode 1, shown on 2 Feb but is still available to watch on iPlayer.

DC: Our pathologist reckons this guy is Sub-saharan, east African. Which would make me think of you.
MJ: Why?
DC: Well you got family in Uganda.
MJ: Yeah, well it was a long time ago, mate. They lived in the 70’s and I was born here.
DC: Well you must have contacts in the community.
MJ: Uh, well, there’s my mum… [sarcastically]
DC: Get in there, get into the community. Find out what they know.
MJ: You want me to go around asking local Africans about ritual killing?
DC: Well it’s better coming from you, Moses. They’re your people.
MJ: My people? And who am I? Bishop Tutu?
DC: If only.
MJ: I’m from Shepherds Bush.
DC: Get in there. Get involved. It is after all your job.
MJ: I’ve already got a job.
DC: What I’m saying is, use your cultural baggage. Use your insight. In this day and age, your identity is a valuable commodity.

What I love so much about Moses Jones is the intra and interpersonal tension that is portrayed so well between the characters. Jones struggles with his own cultural identity, as he is forced to learn and investigate the lives of Ugandan immigrants living in London. They are people he would not normally associate with, and he makes his cultural identity clear when he tells Catherwood, “I’m from Shepherd’s Bush.”

Moses automatically distances himself from poor underprivileged blacks, and draws a clear line between being local (British) and foreign (Ugandan), privileged (detective inspector) and underprivileged (club musician, minicab operator, prostitute, drunk, beggar), legal and illegal. As a community living on the fringes of society, many of the characters do not possess legal papers and are afraid to approach the police for fear they may be deported from the country.

In one scene, minicab operator Joseph Ali (Obi Abili) asks Moses: “Where are you from, my friend?”
“London,” he snapped.
“You are Ugandan like me I think. I recognise the nose. We are fellow countrymen,” Joseph laughs, but Moses is not impressed.

The drama strongly emphasizes the contrast between accents, and this in turn is an indicator of the characters’ cultural identities. Moses speaks with a heavy London accent, while the other black characters speak with a strong Ugandan/Afrian accent.

There is also the tension portrayed between the two detectives. Moses tells Dan to stop his “Famous Five, naive, idiot savant stuff” but it is obvious that both respect each other. Dan even stands up for Moses when he faces verbal hostility from a racist witness.

In the second episode, the relationship between the two is slightly strained when Moses leads the police team into an empty room with evidence already removed.

There is a hint of professional rivalry when Dan accuses Moses of ‘stealing’ his case as he was the first to discover the body. He seems to suggest that Moses was only put on the case because of his cultural background and was incompetent in his job. Dan also accuses him of becoming too emotionally involved by trying to protect the niece of the murdered man, which we will see more of in the final episode.

Another reason I absolutely love this drama is its portrayal of real London life. It might not be a perfect portrayal of the Ugandan community in London (and who would know except those of the same time and culture) but it certainly is a fresh portrayal of the complexities of urban living, racial relations and human aspirations.

The final episode of Moses Jones will be shown on Mon the 16th on BBC Two.

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This entry was posted on February 12, 2009 by and tagged , .
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