Stage actor Nathalie Qadir unwittingly helps three young terrorists attack London. Out of guilt she goes to work for MI6, but her acting and Arabic skills seem paltry weapons against a newly declared Islamic Caliphate the biggest threat to the West in a century.
Stage actor and part-time hairdresser NATHALIE QADIR befriends three polite young Muslim men in her immigrant neighborhood in London; they fill a hole in her heart where her brother once was. She doesn’t realize that terrorist financier and ideologue ABN AL SADR has trained them for jihad. The boys blow themselves up along with 247 innocents, and Nathalie is crushed with guilt. There were signs, she tells herself, if she had cared to see them. Listen to your little voice, her Mum always told her. She fears she can never forgive herself.
Nathalie is picked up and interrogated. MI6 Subdirector PASTEY pushes for confession, and the two develop a deep mutual dislike. After two weeks the agency has to admit she was not willfully involved. At the same time, they can’t help but notice her gifts. Nathalie speaks fluent Arabic, as a child of exiled Palestinians. She is a master of accents, improvisation and disguise from years on the English stage. She desperately wants to atone. And something else, a favored trait for intel recruits: Nat is alone, with her brother dead, her father immobilized by strokes, and her mum with Alzheimer’s. Despite deep misgivings about MI6, she lets herself be convinced.
At the Academy, Nathalie is about to graduate first in her class. A Spanish operative, who Nat nicknames EL MORO for his dark Moorish looks, teaches a hand-to-hand combat master class. His muscular movement is serene and confident, as if he could take on anyone in the room. Or, perhaps, everyone in the room. Rumor has it he’s in deep cover ops, infiltrating the heads of criminal and terrorist groups. His class knocks Nathalie flat: she soon learns her choreographed moves will not save her. This is not the stage, and people are going to try to kill her. She begins to dread the life she has chosen.
Pastey, her former interrogator, is now her boss, and their early antagonism has matured into loathing. Happy to send her off, Pastey assigns her to extricate an associate of Sadr’s in Jordan who seeks asylum. Tailing the defector, Nat finds Sadr’s retail operation a sort of black market Amazon.com and gets a close look at his muscled, serenely confident bodyguard. Why does he look familiar? Sadr is tipped off, empties his warehouse, kills an agent, and vanishes.
Nathalie is grounded for a time, and takes up other cases while Sadr’s trail grows cold. Nothing, however, diminishes her commitment to stopping him. Years later she gets her chance: Nat uncovers Sadr’s involvement with a former GENERAL from the Iraqi army. Together, Sadr and the General have united restive Iraqi tribesmen to establish a New Caliphate, built on the severed heads of infidels and funded by appropriated oil wells. They recruit lost kids from the West, turn them into jihadis, and then send them back to unleash bedlam on their own home soil.
When Nathalie finds that Sadr is targeting New York City, she tails him there. Sadr kills his own colleague while Nat’s MI6 colleagues hold her back. It dawns on her that her employer is evil, a significant part of the time. She wonders, Are they 30% evil? 40%? How much MI6 evil can she tolerate? Nathalie entertains grave doubts about continuing on with MI6.
She puts these thoughts on the back burner so she can stop Sadr’s attack on New York, but she is too late. His homegrown terrorists leave the city in flames while Sadr himself takes Nathalie overseas in a Rohypnol haze to a torture cell. Using brute survival instinct, her implacable little inner voice, water from the toilet and her hairdressing skills, she escapes.
Her cover is completely blown and Pastey puts her out to pasture in Tajikistan. This time she’s disguised as an anthropologist, and she stumbles upon four cargo planes landing at midnight at the local airport. Her curiosity piqued, Nathalie peers inside: mercenaries. Sadr and the General are now shipping both weapons and the men to wield them.
Pastey says Nathalie botched his own operation to stop the mercenary flights. He scolds her for costing MI6 the capture. Instead, he tells her, she needs to focus on a colleague, suggesting the man is a killer mole. Chastened, Nathalie turns her attention to the possible mole but also starts to doubt Pastey. Something was off in how he described what was going on. You can’t out-act an actor, Nathalie muses. Before she can share her suspicions, Sadr’s men find her and capture her again. She has to wonder: How did they even know she was in Tajikistan?
Sadr’s brutes drag her aboard a windowless cargo plane. She will be bait, to snare Sadr’s biggest prize: Pastey himself awaits a payoff at the General’s compound in the Iraqi badlands. Nathalie will be the price of Pastey’s loyalty to Sadr, in exchange for a very comfortable retirement. Landing at the desert compound, Pastey is only too ready to take Nathalie out: she has made his life miserable since the day they met. He raises the pistol with something like glee.
A shot rings out, but not from Pastey’s gun. His right hand lies in the dust ten yards away, pale and hairy. Sadr and the General search for Nathalie’s ally, who turns out to be one of their own men: Sadr’s dark, muscular bodyguard. El Moro emerges from the shadows in the planeâ€™s hold and draws fire to save Nat’s life; they steal away into rural Iraq. The General, Pastey and Sadr chase them across the desert in a pair of Humvees. Nat calls in a favor from one of her buddies at MI6 HQ in the form of a drone strike that takes out the General in a glaze of fire.
Nat and El Moro continue their flight in the dead of night. Sadr calls in reinforcements: they can’t let word of Pastey’s treason get back to MI6. The final showdown takes place as Nat heads for home, injured, exhausted, and determined to quit her job. As an unarmed Nathalie limps up the stairs and into the plane that will take her to London, Sadr arrives and attacks. The stairs are never properly unhooked, but that doesn’t stop the terrified pilot from trying to take off.
El Moro races in, striking Sadr’s caravan from behind, as Sadr and Pastey close in on Nat’s plane. While her pilot panics, Nat reopens the plane door to mount a proper defense. She takes a purposeful tumble to the bottom of the rolling stairs, dragging the machinery to a halt and giving Nat a straight shot into Sadr’s window. In an explosion of blood and bone, Sadr is dead.
El Moro and Nathalie arrive in London; she has decided to quit MI6. Her friends from the Service are waiting on the tarmac with the unhappy news that her father has died. As she closes that door to her past, she battles uncertainty about her values, her job, and her life.
El Moro arrives at her flat to offer friendship and solace over a glass of bourbon. She slumps against him on the sofa and his arms cosset her, body and soul. The next morning, well rested for the first time in a month, Nathalie showers and dresses, boards the Tube, and returns to the office. There’s still work to be done, she reasons, and she’ll survive.