Monday, 19 November 2012

Secret State – a thriller that's well worth investigating

Rupert Graves as ruthless minister Felix Durrell
Writer and blogger Pat Nurse checks out C4's Secret State and uncovers a cracking contemporary conspiracy thriller, despite the low ratings

Burned-out images of a small northern town blown up in a petrochemical incident opens new TV political thriller Secret State. The only colour image is that of a child's small woollen glove with tiny hand inside amid the debris, which shows that every political decision affects the lives of ordinary people.

And if we could choose as leader someone like Tom Dawkins, played by Gabriel Byrne, then we probably would. He's a man of integrity who is trying to do the right thing, but the question remains whether he can do so given the machinations of Global Government and Big Business.

  • Secret State episode 3: Channel 4, Wednesday 21 November, 10pm

Secret State is edge-of-the-seat stuff. Tense, gripping, too plausible to be comfortable, but with the added WOW factor of a fast-moving and exciting drama that imagines what might potentially go on behind the scenes when government is faced with a crisis.

Front bench, frontline – Gabriel Byrne as the PM
Viewing figures are reportedly low – just 1.2 million viewers for the opening episode. We don't know whether that's because of recent real life political scandals, that have led to a lack of appetite for dramatic representations of dirty dealings, or whether it's down to the simple fact that there has been little promotion of this excellent series by Channel 4.

A Very British Coup
It's based on former Labour MP Chris Mullin's left wing novel A Very British Coup, but Secret State is not ideologically driven from the left or right, neither are the politicians defined by their party. They are driven by the hopes of the electorate, the restrictions of the system, and their own career ambitions.

But does it contribute to the burgeoning cynicism among the great unwashed that in recent times has been sickened by the actions of their political leaders?

Gabriel Byrne says we all have our role to play in the kind of society and political system we get.

“I think the function of a really good political thriller is not providing the answers, but to raise questions," said Byrne. "And that's why I believe these kinds of films are important, because you come in with the really big ideas on the back of a gripping story.

Gina McKee as investigative reporter Ellis Kane
“I think, if we're really honest, we all make a collective bargain with denial, and we allow things to pass because we either just haven't got the energy to concentrate on them, or because we don't want to know the reality of it.

Can Dawkins hold the petrol giant to account?
“But we have to find a way between being, in a vague way, terrified of everything that's happening and going to happen, and a sense of our own responsibility as people who elect these people, and that we must hold them accountable and call them to task.”

Certainly Byrne's character Dawkins is trying to hold the fictional Petrofex to account for what happened in that small town called Scarrow and he holds the image of that child's hand in his mind to keep him focused. But there is much more to it than meets the eye, with evidence surfacing of a toxin found in the child's hand and in her Petrofex worker father's blood – a discovery that has already led to the death of the pathologist who demanded answers from the multi-billion pound company.

Dawkins reluctantly takes on the role of leader of his party and PM following the death of his predecessor, who appears to have been the victim of a terrorist plot to bring his plane down. But junior officer Agnes, played by Ruth Negga, who works in British Intelligence at GCHQ, is not so sure.

Agnes plays a dangerous game
She's spotted something unusual, which doesn't fit with the official line of who is responsible for the attack, in the final photos taken of the PM and his team by the fatal plane before they board. But no one in her unit is taking her seriously.

She secretly visits her mentor for help and confides her suspicions to him. But has she put herself in danger, as he appears to be in with MI6 who play down what she has to say? Can the man be trusted? We'll have to watch the third episode of this four-part series to find out and try and keep in mind that it isn't real. It is a political fable and of course our real leaders only have our best interests at heart.