Tue 29 Sep 2009
STATE OF PLAY. BBC-TV, 2003. [6 x 60m miniseries] John Simm, David Morrissey, Kelly Macdonald, Bill Nighy, Amelia Bullmore, Benedict Wong, Rebekah Staton, Philip Glenister, Polly Walker, James McAvoy, Marc Warren. Screenwriter: Paul Abbott; director: David Yates.
First of all, do not confuse this with the film produced in the US in 2009 starring Russell Crowe, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams, Helen Mirren and Robin Wright Penn.
No matter how good this latter group of actors may be, and no matter how many names you recognize in the US production over that of the BBC series, when it comes down to sheer entertainment value, I doubt that there’ll be much comparison. In the overall scheme of life and a list of things that are possible, this doesn’t seem to be one of them.
But I say that without having seen the US version. On the other hand, it’s just been released on DVD, so I’m sure I’ll give it a try. If and when I do, I’ll report back later.
Having spent all of last week – eight hours’ worth — watching the BBC version and being completely enthralled, I don’t see how reducing the running time down to two hours can possibly improve either the story or the characterizations. (The eight hours includes watching each of the first and last hours twice, the second time in each case with running commentary.)
Much of the miniseries takes place in the newsroom of a busy London newspaper, and although I’ve not been in a newsroom recently — not since I gave up my job reviewing mysteries for the Hartford Courant — it looked and felt to me as authentic as actually being there: a huge room bustling with people working and moving around with individual reporters’ desks with stacks of papers and files and anything else that a reporter might want his or her hands on at a moment’s notice.
It was difficult, in fact, to come down from the giddy feeling produced by the top-notch overall atmosphere, the competitive camaraderie, the highs of stories when they’re panning out followed by the lows when they’re not, especially when the latter are caused by management buckling under pressure from those up above concerned with the bottom line, or even worse, from the government in the form of the police or some agency involved with rules and regulations regarding, perhaps, the oil industry.
Dead in a railway accident is Sonia Baker, a research assistant to Stephen Collins (David Morrissey), a up-and-coming Member of Parliament who’s chairing The Energy Select Committee.
When he falls apart in tears at an ensuing press conference, his secret’s out. Although married with two young children, he’d been having an affair with the dead girl.
Was it an accident, or was it suicide? Of course we (the viewer) know better than that.
On the story from the beginning is the suitably scruffy Cal McCaffrey (John Simm), with a little more inside information than any other reporter since he’s a friend of Collins and at one time his campaign manager.
Complicating matters considerable is the affair that McCaffrey ends up in with Collins’ wife (Polly Walker). This adds an edge to an ever-widening story that points more and more to a grand conspiracy going on, but the facts could not be more elusive, always seemingly just out of reach.
Every once in a while the British accents made some of the dialogue undecipherable but not once did I find the problem unmanageable. Surprising enough, I found the broad Scottish accent of reporter Della Smith (Kelly Macdonald) more understandable that some of the British ones, once my ear became more and more accustomed to it.
All of the players are marvelous, pitch perfect (other than accents) in every way, including (and especially) Bill Nighy as Cameron Foster, the managing editor. He’s urbane, witty, snippy, dedicated and slightly acerbic in each and every situation where he needs to be each of the above.
One flaw, if there is one, may also be a large one. The ending, while a totally natural one in one sense, also seems grafted on (or retrofitted, if you will), and it takes some effort to reconcile it some of the earlier threads of the plot — and there are a lot of them!
Forgiving that is easily done, however, given the overall high quality of the presentation, and how delightfully and completely enjoyable the entire production is.