|Chaos – Deputy Prime Minister Dawkins (Gabriel Byrne) inspects the damage. Pics C4|
Channel 4: starts Wednesday, 7 November, 10pm
Story: Deputy Prime Minister Tom Dawkins vows to take on the American petrochemical company PetroFex after a devastating accident on British soil. But an array of clandestine powers are ranged against him.
This is a juicy conspiracy drama for these days of official cock-ups, cover-ups and corporations ganging-up on the rest of us.
It's the second time C4 have made a version of British politician Chris Mullin's novel A Very British Coup – the first being shown in 1988 with Ray McAnally – but our dread of what goes on in the corridors of power and commerce has rarely been sharper.
In this new version there's another Irishman playing the man in Number 10 – Gabriel Byrne. He is deputy Prime Minister Tom Dawkins, who's left with a crisis when an exposion at a petrol plant owned by a US company kills several people in Teesside and devastates a community.
|Dawkins and his rivals, Ros Yelland (left) and FelixDurrell|
The Prime Minister is killed
When his boss, the Prime Minister, is then killed in a plane crash while returning from America where he's been meeting the PetroFex honchos, safe-pair-of-hands Dawkins becomes temporary PM. That is, until one of the two government velociraptors – Felix Durrell or Ros Yelland – can slug it out in a leadership contest.
This pair waste no time elbowing their way to power, with Ros not exactly breaking down in grief at the PM's demise – 'He's dead. We would have had to replace him anyway after he lost the election.'
The plot thickens nicely as Dawkins balances between these two while at the same time becoming aware that there is a whiff of scandal behind the tragic events, largely thanks to the efforts of journalist Ellis Kane.
The Americans ask GCHQ to bug a journalist
Was the plane the Prime Minister was travelling on, owned by PetroFex, hit by terrorists, or sabotaged by other interests? Why is the pathologist, who's found toxicity in the bodies of blast victims, being blocked in his work? Why have the Americans asked GCHQ to monitor the journalist's mobile phone?
A dark, menacing mood of unseen forces pervades the opening episode (of four). And a terrific cast plays up the shifty-eyed, duplicitous potential of the story for all it's worth.
Gabriel Byrne is definitely star of the show as the establishment's odd man out with his shred of integrity still in tact. He's certainly an actor with an adventurous past (Miller's Crossing, The Usual Suspects, In Treatment) and a fascinating future (the Beeb's new detective series Quirke).
|Investigative reporter Ellis Kane (Gina McKee)|
Charles Dance's baleful glances are perfect for the chief whip, while Rupert Graves is a shit once again as Felix. Gina McKee is the journo and Ruth Negga is the GCHQ analyst with a birds-eye view of what's going on.
A slight criticism is that the politicians are a little too grotesque at times, with Felix Durrell and Ros Yelland resembling Alan B'Stard more than real life forked-tongue public servants.
But Secret State is engrossing and intelligent. Executive producer Jason Newmark explains why he and director Ed Fraiman thought Chris Mullin's novel was ripe for an update: 'The original novel was set in the 80s against the backdrop of Cold War tensions, and the thriller played upon the perceived Soviet threat to Britain as a reason for the establishment's corruption of democracy.
Threats to democacy
'In contemporary Britain such a stark paradigm no longer exists, but there are other, more hidden ways in which democracy is compromised. We retained the bones of the story of the original novel, but focused our thriller on the latent power of the military-industrial complex and global corporate capitalism as new threats to democracy.'
Conspiracy theory or not, in the light of the banking meltdown, Hillsborough and the expenses scandal, who's to say the powers that be would never behave with such malevolent self-interest?
Cast: Gabriel Byrne Tom Dawkins, Charles Dance John Hodder, Stephen Dillane Paul Jacob Clark, Don Gayle Lead Journalist, Rupert Graves Felix Durrell, Ralph Ineson Wrigglesworth, Russell Kilmister Nillis Jacobson, Sylvestra Le Touzel Ros Yelland, Anna Madeley Gina Hayes, Gina McKee Ellis Kane, Ruth Negga Agnes Evans, Jamie Sives Lee Foulds, Al Weaver Joss Leyton, Douglas Hodge Anthony Fossett, Nicholas Farrell General Munnery, Michael Gould William Hawley, Kika Markham Carol Molloy, Lia Williams Laura Duchenne