Ever been worried when you didn't get a chance to Google your date before meeting up for the first time? Well, for the character played by Sophia Okonedo in BBC America's Undercover, imagine that feeling times about a billion, as she realizes that she's married to an undercover officer (Adrian Lester) who has been lying to her about who he is and what he's been doing for the their entire 20-year relationship. But is that a problem people have actually faced? Is Undercover based on a true story? Well, according to an account from the The Observer, there have been instances of women in the UK who were in relationships with MET officers looking for information who didn't know the truth of what their undercover significant others were doing.
In 2010, the scandal broke, surrounding lawsuits brought by a handful of women who claim they were deceived into relationships by male police officers in order to infiltrate organizations they were a part of. "My role was to provide intelligence about protests and demonstrations," the Observer's anonymous police source, known as Officer A, said. "In doing so, the campaigns I was associated with lost much of their effectiveness."
The Observer's account only mentions women who were in the dark about their male partners, not any subversion of that specific gender breakdown — perhaps there weren't many female officers undercover. One man accused of having false relationships, Mark Kennedy, claimed to The Daily Mail in 2011 that though he was involved in two relationships while undercover and knows that was wrong, reports that he had been with many women to get information were inaccurate. In the same Daily Mail interview, Kennedy also totally disavowed the methods of undercover policing, calling them "grey and murky."
Undercover creator Peter Moffat told The Guardian that the scandal is, in part, what inspired his story. "These women have stood together and meet to work through what a terrible trauma this has been. Naturally, they’re all angry and traumatized by what’s happened," he said. Moffat spoke with at least one of the women, Helen Steel, who was in a relationship with an MET officer. Right now, as The Daily Mail reported, these women are waiting to find out about whether or not these undercover behaviors should be legal. "The Pitchford Inquiry will examine the Met's undercover infiltration of political groups since 1968," the Daily Mail reported.
But the actual characters in Undercover are not based on any one person, and the series certainly isn't tied to any real events. The only commonality is the concept of unknowingly being in a relationship with an undercover officer, so Undercover, which is structured as a tense mystery, still has the power to surprise you. After all, as Okonedo's character Maya finds out more information, so will the audience, while simultaneously seeing some things from the point of view of Lester's character, Nick.
Imagine The Americans without the strong, fundamentally honest relationship between Phillip and Elizabeth, and you have a total mess of a family constantly in jeopardy of espionage-related mishaps. While Undercover looks more contemplative than the pulpy FX series, it will also be blending family drama with the current policing dilemma facing the UK.
Images: Lee Searle Photography/BBC America (2)