The latest “Masterpiece Contemporary” production, “Collision” is an interesting idea but ultimately not compelling enough to draw the audience into its individual stories. Sifting through the wreckage of a massive highway crash outside London, writers Anthony Horowitz (“Foyle’s War”) and Michael A. Walker dip inside each of those vehicles, flashing back into the lives of those involved as well as that of the investigator (“Primeval’s” Douglas Henshall) chosen to decipher what happened. As drama goes, “Collision” pulls out all the stops — and still doesn’t yield much of an impact.
Det. John Tolin (Henshall) is asked to determine the cause of the six-car pile-up, which claimed a number of lives and even triggered charges of police malfeasance. Each vehicle contains its own backstory, which is gradually explored — along with Tolin’s tortured personal history, which involves his wife’s death in an accident; and his awkward pairing with a former lover (Kate Ashfield) to examine the case.
The narrative jumps between what transpired before the crash and its aftermath. The stories range from political thriller to romantic melodrama, with everything from fractured family relationships (and possibly murder) to smuggled cargo.
On their own, however, most of the disparate threads feel a trifle familiar, and the crash proves a rather slippery adhesive in the purpose of holding them together. With roughly a dozen characters to service, the narrative structure thwarts the best efforts of an exceptional cast, many of them recognizable from other recent British productions.
The crash is replayed several times from various angles, but the film’s underlying rumination about the thin lines that distinguish safety from tragedy — the arbitrary nature of who lives and dies — feels heavyhanded in the final analysis, especially given the last-act revelations.
“Collision” wins points for ambition, perhaps, but as the quaint little stopovers on PBS’ highway of British drama go, it’s one of those rare rest stops that’s just as easily skipped.