Everything you need to know about new BBC thriller The Looming Tower

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Anna Brech
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Wrenn Schmidt and Peter Sargsgaard in the BBC thriller The Looming Tower

We unpick the headline facts from The Looming Tower, a new ten-part drama series on BBC Two

The lights have not yet lowered on the brilliance that is Line Of Duty; and already we have a new BBC thriller lurking on the horizon.

The Looming Tower is a ten-part series that kicked off this Friday on BBC Two

Charting the events that led up to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it’s a tense and gripping drama that has already drawn comparisons to Homeland at its best.

Here’s everything you need to know:

It’s based on real events

The Looming Tower draws its grit and impact from the real-life tragedy of 9/11; and as a viewer, that reality is never far from your mind.

The compelling script interweaves drama with archive footage, breaking down the circumstances that led to the rise of Osama bin Laden and al Queda in the late 1990s. 

It is “a fascinating and illuminating deconstruction of the personalities and events that ultimately led to the horror of 9/11,” says Sue Deek, the BBC head of programme acquisition.

BBC TV series The Looming Tower
The Looming Tower is based on real-life events

It’s adapted from a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel

The Looming Tower is no lightweight thriller; its integrity is fuelled by a “remarkable” non-fiction book of the same name by author Lawrence Wright.

The account is based on over 500 interviews with key players around the events of 9/11, including bin Laden’s best friend in college and a former White House counter-terrorism chief.

Widely considered to be one of the most thorough authorities on the events leading up to the attacks, it demonstrates that they were not inevitable.

“Rather, bad luck, the confluence of particular decisions and chance encounters, dithering on the part of United States officials and a series of absurd turf wars between the CIA and FBI all contributed to Al Qaeda’s success in pulling off its nefarious plans that sunny September day,” says a New York Times review of the Pulitzer-winning read.

It comes with a stellar cast

The series packs its punch from a top-line cast that covers some of the industry’s most respected talents.

You’ll recognise Jeff Daniels making a huge leap from his Dumb and Dumber days in the lead role of beleaguered FBI agent John O’Neill (the performance won him an Emmy nomination).

Then there’s Wrenn Schmidt, of The Americans and Boardwalk Empire, who plays a CIA agent. Maggie Gyllenhaal’s husband Peter Sarsgaard is Schmidt’s boss in the drama, and actor Tahar Rahim plays an FBI officer who goes undercover at terrorist meetings.

You may know Virginia Kull, another agent, from Big Little Lies.

Behind the scenes is Oscar-winning documentary maker Alex Gibney, adding his professional gravitas to proceedings.

BBC drama series The Looming Tower
Expect a gripping plot that plays out across multiple continents

There’s a lot of spy craft and intrigue

Hence the comparisons to Homeland

Much of The Looming Tower’s simmering tension comes from a face-off between Daniels and Sarsgaard’s characters, as the warring heads of the FBI and CIA.

Both men are fiery characters with a lot of baggage, and the rivalry of their agencies plays into the hostility between them; with key terrorist information going unseen as a result. 

Edge-of-your-seat spy games also feature prominently, from interrogations and infiltration of al Qaeda cells in Nairobi, to gripping chase scenes that unfold across the rooftops of Harare. 

It’s already a hit in the States

The miniseries first aired on American channel Hulu last year, and won major plaudits for its powerful script and performances.

It’s been hailed for its pacy and gripping plot, which delivers great drama without diluting or sensationalising the political complexities of what actually happened.

“The show takes a subject we thought we knew and skillfully excavates its history without acting as the cheerleader for any particular agenda,” says this Vanity Fair review.

Catch The Looming Tower on Fridays on BBC Two or in full on Amazon Prime

Images: BBC Pictures


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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.