by Allan Fish
(UK 2003 350m) DVD2
A missing silver briefcase
p Hilary Bevan Jones d David Yates w Paul Abbott ph Chris Seager ed Mark Day m Nicholas Hooper art Donal Woods
David Morrissey (Stephen Collins), John Simm (Cal McCaffrey), Kelly MacDonald (Della Smith), Bill Nighy (Cameron Foster), Polly Walker (Anne Collins), Amelia Bullmore (Helen Preger), James McAvoy (Dan Foster), Philip Glenister (DCI William Bell), Marc Warren (Dominic Foy), Michael Feast (Andrew Wilson), Benedict Wong (Pete Cheng), Geraldine James (Yvonne Shaps), Sean Gilder (Sgt. “Chewy” Cheweski), Tom Burke (Syd), Shauna McDonald (Sonia Baker), David Ryall,
Just watching State of Play again reminds one of just how incestuous British television drama is. Never mind the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, they should rename that game the Two Degrees of John Simm. Just one look through the cast – Simm, Morrissey, Nighy, McDonald, Glenister, Warren, it’s like a who’s who of contemporary drama. Only Jodhi May, David Tennant, Sarah Parish and David Bradley are missing, but all of the above are very much part of the merry-go-round. Take Morrissey, who following this had arguably his best role as Ripley Holden in Blackpool, opposite David Tennant, whose adversary as Doctor Who, The Master, was reincarnated as John Simm, who appeared with David Morrissey… Arthur Schnitzler would give off a wry smile.
State of Play follows the ramification of the seemingly unconnected deaths of a 15 year old black youth and a twenty-something parliamentary research assistant on the same London morning. It transpires that up and coming cabinet tipped MP Stephen Collins was having an affair with the deceased woman, and at this time he renews acquaintance with Cal McCaffrey, an old friend and campaign manager now working as a journalist for famous editor Cameron Foster. The problem is that a phone call took place twixt the two seemingly unconnected victims on the fateful morning in question, and it becomes a race to see whether the police or Fleet Street get to the truth first.
Six years on the chances of a second series seem rather slim at best, not least because rumours have persisted that the plot outline was rejected as too close to the bone for the BBC head brass. Furthermore, writer Paul Abbott has been consumed with his beloved scallys, The Gallaghers, in Channel 4’s Shameless (in which McAvoy and Gilder also appeared – see what I mean?); but, funny though that is, it’s this series he should be remembered for. A superbly written piece that analyses the corridors of power as accurately as anyone has since House of Cards, while, though perhaps a little cosy in its likeable characters, the feel of a Fleet Street news office is superbly evoked. There’s no dazzling technical accomplishment here, merely an exercise in controlled direction, superb ensemble acting and terse, thrilling and characteristically funny scripting.
At the centre of all those connections, and at the moral centre of the drama, Simm is again his usual dependable, reliable everyman self, probably the best in his long line of working class antiheroes stretching from The Lakes to Sex Traffic. You can see the anguish in his face, and feel his split loyalty to his old friend and his employer. On the other side of the fence we have the excellent Morrissey, perfect as the morally ambiguous ambitious political aspirant whose life has spiralled out of control. McDonald is the perfect smart but somehow too idealistic assistant, while Glenister is his reliably solid self as the investigating policeman, jut one step away from his signature seventies copper Gene Hunt (see, we’re back to John Simm again). Then there’s the inimitable, craggy face of Bill Nighy, as the boss any budding reporter would kill for. If I had to pick a stand-out, unfair though it is, it would have to be Marc Warren, as gay in denial Dominic Foy, a fall guy for all time who might just have his own personal cloud perpetually suspended over his head; one of the great supporting roles in TV drama. If the ending doesn’t entirely satisfy, you’d be pernickety to knock it, for this is as good as political thrillers get. Forget the 2009 Hollywood remake; it’s okay, but a pale shadow of this.