Mubarak political thriller makes a splash on TV
Amid the deluge of television serials aired in this year's month of Ramadan, only a few are worth watching.
Vertigo can be counted as one.
Though for its genre as a political thriller it is a little slow-paced, and occasionally drifts towards melodrama, it still has a well-developed script and believable dialogue and fleshed-out characters.
The drama does not rely on typecasting, or offer easy and cliched roles for its characters.
Vertigo, based on a novel by Hosni Mubarak's former personal photographer, Ahmed Mourad, starts with a murder in one of the high-end hotels in Cairo. Farida (Hend Sabry), who was visiting her friends after photography work at a wedding, becomes the sole witness to the murder, watching it from outside the window.
Enraged, Farida is adamant on finding out who was behind the murder. In her search, Farida treads on dangerous grounds, as high officials in the country are involved in the crime.
Sabry, playing the lead, pulls a good and believable performance. But sometimes she overdoes it with the angry and irritable attitude.
Variations in performance in some moments creates dissonance in a scene.
Set in pre-revolution Cairo, the series taps on a number of issues, like the privatisation of Egyptian factories, the corruption and dominance of men of power. It also depicts the ways in which journalism conspires with the system, portraying a supposedly dissident newspaper.
References to well-known political players can be seen throughout. One can see the resemblance to Mubarak-era Minister of Interior Habib El Adly. Another obvious reference is journalist Ibrahim Eissa, who in the series is the editor-in-chief of the dissident Al-Shams (The Sun) newspaper.
One sub-plot, that will eventually become merged into the main plot, is of one journalist who leaves Al-Shams to work for El-Sot El-Hor (The Free Voice), a seemingly anti-regime newspaper.
One can see the slow transformation of the journalist and fights with his wife, who still works in Al-Shams. The conflict between husband and wife over professional integrity is quite believable. Personal relationships are well-developed in the series because of their complex and entangled layers.
There is Farida's relationship with her religious younger sister, who criticises her lifestyle. There is also Omar, Farida's childhood friend and companion, who adds a light touch to the drama. However, his performance that is meant to be endearing, at times becomes irritating. Attempts to make his flustered stuttering funny are overdone.
Yet other secondary characters are well-drawn. One middle-aged photographer residing in the infamous nightclub "Paris," calling himself El-General (Sayed Ragab), is an interesting addition to the story.
Having been trapped in this nightclub to take photographs of high society, and only being allowed outside with a pass, El-General lives upon the past, where he used to walk down the streets at ease and take photos. This situation is one trigger of the natural bond between El-General and Farida.
Paris is an exclusive nightclub in which only the “big” names in the country dwell at night. Many people know about it but it is always referred to as that place that is out of reach.
One of the biggest flaws in the series is that it falls into the trap of over-explanation of the political situation, which is common in Egyptian television.
Though the series as a whole has potential, building up throughout the month of Ramadan, for a political thriller the expectancy of a more heightened level of anticipation is not quite fulfilled.
Perhaps it is the requirement of making 30 episodes in order to cover the whole month of Ramadan that rids this political thriller of its required intensity. Had it been shorter and more compact, perhaps, it would have been more interesting.