When I see TV mini-series like BBC’s excellent State of Play, I’m reminded of how the TV medium can be as powerful as the big screen, if just given half a chance. And I’m also reminded how U.S. TV networks shill out shovel-loads of crap not worth watching, and wonder why viewers are fleeing in droves to downloads, cable, and DVD.
State of Play takes its time weaving a tangly web of deceit, conspiracy, and shocking implications of the power that big business can have over government. At least it is shocking initially until you realize that things like this probably happen all the time, especially in the capitalist world.
Stephen Collins (David Morrissey) finds out that his assistant and on-the-side lover Sonia Baker has been killed, falling under a train in the London Underground. There are several things about this scenario that are not good for poor Stephen: a) He is married, b) He is a hot-shot MP on the rise in the federal government, and c) It quickly starts to look like her shocking death may not be an accident or suicide, but is in fact murder.
The cops are of course quickly on the case, but so is the media. Cal McCaffrey (John Simm) is a good friend of Collins’ from the early days when Cal worked on Stephen’s campaign. But Cal just so happens to be a hard-nosed journalist for a major newspaper. He’s torn between being a confidant of Collins, to having the best “in” of any reporter hoping to unearth dirt about the case. In no time, Cal is in over his head. As his team of reporters, including his partner Della (Kelly Macdonald, with her Scottish accent as thick as a bowl of haggis), his boss Cameron (Bill Nighy, who is wonderful with his wry comments that always end on a seemingly unintentional soft snort of laughter), and the young-buck researcher (James McAvoy, before his shot to fame) continue digging with clever sleuthing, Cal finds himself with unintended emotional involvement because of his relationship not only with Stephen, but Stephen’s wronged wife Anne (Polly Walker).
The joy of watching a series like State of Play is because it is six hours, it’s allowed the extra time to develop a complicated plot without suffering from major plot holes because of hurried developments. Each hour is intense, wrapping up with a nice shocker or two, leaving you to immediately push Play to start the next. Director David Yates (known lately for picking up the directing helm for a couple of Harry Potter films) keeps the pace brisk, but allows for the development of the many characters. And speaking of characters, the cast is all-around top notch, from the “name” actors like Nighy, McAvoy, and Macdonald, to the supporting actors who all manage to make an impression.
Be sure to check out this top-notch political thriller on DVD.
The two-disc DVD contains commentary tracks for Episode 1 track by creator/writer Paul Abbott and director David Yates; and Episode 6 by Yates, producer Hilary Bevan Jones, and editor Mary Day.