We want what you have– that’s the essential premise of BBC One’s new drama and the words, neatly type-written on anonymous postcards that plague Pepys Road. The fictional South London street is heaving, as all streets are, with a multitude of tiny, covert dramas. With the introduction of the mysterious postcards, we are ushered swiftly through their front doors and into the thick of their lives.
Based on John Lanchester’s 2012 novel, it’s a story unique its time – the lead-up to the financial crash of 2008, when many, including banker and Pepys Street denizen Roger (Toby Smith) had yet to grasp the decidedly temporary nature of economic success. Equally, the show’s Clapham location seems as much a character as any other member of the stellar cast, which includes Lesley Sharp (Scott and Bailey) and Adeel Akhtar (Utopia). The newly-gentrified Pepys Road, still in the process of an uneasy transition from bedsits to £3 million suburban refuges, is brought to life by the uneasy tension between the old and the new.
It’s not a new idea, to peel back the surface of a residential area and look more closely at the lives inside – there’s a multitude of TV soaps prepared to fill that particular niche. Capital distinguishes itself, however, in its close focus on the politics of property and the English obsession with house-ownership. ‘An Englishman’s home is his castle’ is a tired saying, but in many ways an accurate one: the houses on Pepys Road are status symbols, expressions of the world view of the residents and the way they would like to be seen. They’re also (stretching the metaphor further still) fortresses, barriers which shelter Smith’s banker, anxiously awaiting a £2 million bonus, from Wunmi Mosaku’s Zimbabwean refugee, and the terminally ill widow further down the road (Gemma Jones). Again, it’s a state of affairs that’s largely unique to London: in few other cities can the desperate be found so closely alongside the rich and powerful. First Lanchester, and then series director Peter Bowker (Marvellous) promise to break down these divisions, both through the intrusion of the mysterious postcards through the letterbox and the property crash looming on the horizon.
The trailer promises a rich portrait of London life, from top to bottom. It’s a daunting task: attempting to represent and appeal to a broad spectrum of lifestyles is admirable, but runs the risk of presenting the viewer with nothing more than an array of one-dimensional archetypes – the Polish builder, the wealthy lady-who-lunches, the bloke who runs the corner shop – and very little in the way of anything recognisable or empathetic. Bowker and his cast will have to work hard to deliver a story set firmly within wider social and economic contexts, while retaining a sense of intimacy.
If successful, Capital could well deliver both intelligent commentary and British ensemble casting at its best and, if it lives up to its promises, an entertaining – and, Bowker hopes, familiar – look into the lives of a group of people otherwise united only by their postcode and the persistent threat of the postcards.
Capital airs on BBC One, Tuesday 9pm