‘Black Earth Rising’ Is Your Next Political Thriller Binge on Netflix

Black Earth Rising
Black Earth Rising

If you binged Bodyguard over the holiday break and are craving another tense British thriller with a political bent, look no further than Black Earth Rising.

The critically acclaimed series (it originally aired in the U.K. last fall) centers on legal investigator Kate Ashby (Michaela Coel), a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide who was adopted and raised by renowned British international criminal law prosecutor Eve Ashby (The Crown’s Harriet Walter).

The Conners’ John Goodman plays American barrister Michael Ennis, Kate’s boss and Eve’s longtime friend and trusted colleague (with whom he shares a secret regarding Kate’s past). When Eve agrees to prosecute a Rwandan general turned mercenary, it drives a wedge between her and Kate, while also presenting an opportunity to finally expose the past. That is, until everything goes shockingly awry.

Writer and director Hugo Blick, who also plays Michael’s rival Blake Gaines, says the idea for the series came while he was doing research for The Honorable Woman, the 2014 BBC/SundanceTV miniseries starring Maggie Gyllenhaal that examined the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Blick developed an interest in the International Criminal Court’s prosecution of war crimes, particularly in African countries, and decided to probe the topic further. “What happens when you have a central character who doesn’t know her past?” he asks. “If that past involves a conspiracy in which geopolitics was involved, then her discovery of her identity is the way by which we, the audience, might learn a bit more about the reach and implications of international justice.”

Michaela Coel as Kate Ashby

And while there aren’t exactly any laugh-out-loud moments, Goodman and Coel — she also created, wrote and starred in the hilarious series Chewing Gum — take an unpredictable approach to their performances that Blick chalks up to their comedic sensibilities. “They’re very spontaneous,” he says. “Both Michaela and John bring a looseness to the portrayal of very sensitive dramatic material, which can be quite unexpected. There’s a playfulness between them that I think is great.”

Black Earth Rising, Series Premiere, Available, Friday, Jan. 25, Netflix