The Veil review: Elisabeth Moss struggles with an iffy English accent as Peaky Blinders creator Steven Knight misfires again

Television: Steven Knight, at his best, delivers a blockbuster fizzle to the small screen. But when he’s bad, he’s pretty awful

For better or worse, there’s no stopping Steven Knight. The producer and showrunner recently debuted This Town, a coming-of-age BBC drama set in the British midlands in the 1980s, complete with caricatured IRA bombers. He is currently gearing up for a Peaky Blinders movie starring a post-Oppenheimer Cillian Murphy. While we wait for that extravaganza, Disney+ brings us The Veil (from Wednesday), his dreary and sometimes plain dreadful thriller which comes off as a cack-handed cover version of Killing Eve.

Knight, at his best, delivers a blockbuster fizzle to the small screen. But when he’s bad, he’s pretty awful – and that’s what’s on offer here as Elisabeth Moss struggles with an iffy English accent (she sounds like she’s impersonating Gillian Anderson impersonating Margaret Thatcher in The Crown) and a hackneyed “tough on the outside/secretly vulnerable” protagonist.

Everything about The Veil is ridiculous, starting with the plot, which sees Moss’s MI6 agent Imogen Salter coming to the rescue of the mysterious Adilah El Idrissi (Yumna Marwan), who has been sheltering a Turkish/Syrian refugee camp, where she is accused of being an Islamic fundamentalist.

There’s a lot more to her than that. She was educated in Paris, the daughter of an Algerian intellectual. She even knows a few things about jazz – which comes as a shock to Salter, after she saves the other woman from a mob at the camp and they drive into the sunset.

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Salter has no clue where they are going, but is eager to keep her new friend out of the reach of the French secret service and the CIA. The spooks have identified Adilah as the “Genie of Raqqa” – a name that potentially leans into trite cliches about the Middle East (if The Veil was set in Ireland, Knight would probably call her the Leprechaun of Limerick). There are many hints about her importance to the security services – but we’re left guessing as to where her loyalties lie or if she is a terrorist (shades of Damian Lewis in Homeland).

Moss is never not watchable and does her best. But she has been handed the hopeless task of breathing life into the caricatured Salter, who communicates exclusively in snappy banter and generally favours violence first, asking questions later. She’s supposed to be a multilayered creation, full of hidden depths – but lands like a riff on Jodie Comer’s Villanelle from Killing Eve, another lost soul hiding behind drop-dead bluster.

The difference is that Comer recognised that Villanelle was a comic book character brought to life and had a lark with the absurdity of it all. In The Veil, by contrast, everyone takes themselves so dreadfully seriously, which sucks all the fun out.

That isn’t to say the series doesn’t have its upside. It is brisk, with a globe-trotting energy. Plus, there’s all that stunning scenery as Imogen and Adilah drive through snow-shrouded Turkey. But there isn’t enough here to stand out from dozens of other modern espionage romps.

Knight fans looking forward to his next big swing will have to hang on to their hats and wait for the new Peaky Blinders instead.