Secret State: Review

Secret State, Channel 4, Wed 7 Nov, 10PM

Back in 1988, I was a wee bit too young, ignorant and stupid to understand the original adaptation of Chris Mullins best seller ‘A Very British Coup’. I tried watching it once and even though I could sense its pedigree and weight there just weren’t any of the prerequisites, such as laser guns space ships or transforming robots, needed to keep me interested.

Besides, it was on quite late and I had to get up to go to school the next day.

In the intervening years, as my tastes have expanded (a fraction) and I have grown capable of watching a more mature type of show (sometimes), I have not had the opportunity to catch, what has become along with ‘Our Friends in the North’, a by word for quality British Drama. So when I started seeing ad’s for Secret State, a new adaptation commissioned by Channel Four my interest was piqued. But when I saw it was starring not only the brilliant and charismatic Gabriel Byrne but also the snaky eyed, charm of the on screen bastard that is Charles Dance I was ecstatic. And boy was I not let down.

Jumping straight into the action we meet Deputy Prime Minister, Tom Dawkins (Byrne) as he visits ground zero of an explosive industrial accident in the North East of England. Shocked and disturbed by the nature of the accident, he is handed a dossier by journalist Ellis Kane (Gina Mckee) regarding Petroflex the American company connected to the explosion.

And, this is where it all kicks off. The unusually honourable and honest MP is drawn into a whirlpool of political chicanery and financial skulduggery, as he tries to ascertain the truth behind the various smoke screens of the organisations involved.

Written by Robert Jones, whose only previous piece of work that I have seen was the disappointing BBC drama Murder (my review here), Secret State has all the necessary features of a modern TV thriller, high production values, slick editing and a seriously heavyweight cast who bring the script to life with all the sparkle and pizazz you would expect of a line-up that includes not only Byrne, Mckee and Dance but also Rupert Graves, Douglas Hodge and the unsung Sylvestra Le Touzel; who shines as Dawkins’s cabinet colleague and political adversary Ros Yelland.

On top of the cinematic look and magical cast, Jones has absolutely nailed the difficult task of creating a slow burning yet riveting TV show. His writing is crisp and lean while the dialogue is naturalistic and absorbing. It reminded me of the Wire, in that the best bits were never centred around the action but instead a really good conversation. For instance, a scene between Dawkins and journalist Anthony Fossett (Hodge) is lit up with the lyrical utterance of “You compounded your misdemeanour, on the sofa, with my sisterâ€?.

It has been a long time since Channel Four has made anything at this level of and I hope it is a return to the heady days of the 80’s and early 90’s when they seemed to produce prestige TV, such as A Very British Coup, GBH and The Camomile Lawn on a regular basis. After all a return to more mature programming after the adolescent years of Big Brother, T4 and Big Fat Gypsy Weddings would only be appropriate a week or so on from the channel’s 30th birthday.