“Secret State”

by John Harvey

After the inanities and kick-ass theatrics of Hunted [which, with its story line of competing multi-nationals, is a bit like The Apprentice re-imagined by Jackie Chan – I mean, really, who cares for any of them?] and the increasingly ludicrous plot lines and over-acting of Claire Daines in Homeland, what a relief last night to settle back and enjoy the first episode of Secret State. Cracking stuff, I thought, and I use that old-fashioned adjective advisably. Underneath all the Spooks-plus hi-tech snooping, which seemed to mean that every conversation, every meeting could be seen and heard by somebody, somewhere, this was at base a political conspiracy thriller with its roots in 1980s television like Edge of Darkness and the earlier adaptation of the novel on which this is [loosely] based, Chris Mullin’s A Very British Coup. Echoes also of David Drury’s 1986 movie, Defence of the Realm, which, like Secret State, starred Gabriel Byrne.

Here Byrne is the solid and dependable Deputy Prime Minister, left holding the parliamentary – and national – fort, while, with the PM a victim of an as-yet-unexplained air crash, foreign secretary Sylvestra Le Touzel and home secretary Rupert Graves battle it out for the leadership. Internal power struggles aside, Byrne’s primary concern is with a multi-national [yes, one of those again] petroleum company whose lax safety precautions have caused a lethal explosion in the north-east and whose boss seems to have been winding the PM round his obnoxious little finger.

Byrne is quietly charismatic and does a good concerned conscience; Le Touzel is an awesomely believable mash-up of Theresa May and Clare Short with undertones of Margaret Thatcher– just watch the way she strides into the House of Commons Gents as if she owns it and every dick in it; Charles Dance is quietly having the time of his life as the chief whip – the punishment he would have smirkingly meted out to Nadine Dorries would be far worse than anything she has to endure in the Aussie outback; and Gina McKee, whom it’s always good to watch, is intriguingly on hand as an investigative reporter.

Can’t wait for episode two … and it’s a while since I’ve thought that.

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