Riz Ahmed's New BBC Drama 'Englistan' Aims To Tell An 'Untold British Story'

Riz Ahmed, the London-born star of Rogue One, HBO's The Night Of and Chris Morris' Four Lions, says it was a "privilege" to have been able to tell "an untold British story" in his new series 'Englistan'.

He said the BBC drama, about a British-Pakistani family "navigating shifting circumstances and evolving loyalties" across four politically-tumultuous decades, was a tale he "always wanted to tell".

Riz Ahmed (Image: Riz MC via Bandcamp)

The show follows three generations of the Latif family – Jamal and Fatima, their children Ashraf, Razia and Asim, and their grandchildren Zahed, Naseem and Ayesha.

It will re-frame recent British history and explore the forces that have shaped modern society - while looking at the Latifs through political movements, gang-land rivalries and cultural assimilation through soul-searching and religious conflict.

"Our characters will question what it means to be true to oneself, to belong, and whether ‘home’ is a country, a community, or something much more personal," the BBC writes:

"Above all this is a story of family, of the enduring love a family provides and how it sustains us, restricts us, and defines us for better or worse."

Ahmed, who became the 'first Muslim, and the first Asian' to win a lead acting Emmy in 2017, describes the programme as "an untold British story with universal themes and resonance".

"It's the story I always wanted to tell, and it's a privilege to have the opportunity to do so."

The series, set to air on BBC Two, has the same name as a 2016 mixtape released by Ahmed, who goes by the musical stage name Riz MC – and forms one-third of rap crew Swet Shop Boys.

He described the Englistan album as "an unflinching portrayal of multiculturalism – not as a buzzword, but as lived experience."

In 2015, Ahmed wrote and directed the short film 'Daytimer', about a young boy experiencing different cultures within the course of one day, from school and prayer to a British-South Asian rave scene. 

"I grew up between those worlds of traditional Pakistani family, a relatively posh school, and the Asian [rave] scene," he said in an interview with Noisey.

"The scene started to splinter and peter out for a number of reasons," he said, "but a really big one is what 9/11 did culturally in terms of the self-image of South Asian communities."

"In the 80s we were all black, in the 90s we were all Asians/Pakis, then post-9/11 it fragments further to Sikh, Hindu, Muslim."

"Scorcese brought the Italian American experience to the centre stage; Spike Lee did it with the African American experience. I want to bring that story on stage too and not as a niche thing, but as a real British story. "

Writer and photographer from South London, UK. If you want to get in touch please email me at: matthew.kirby@konbini.com