Cool Britannia: State of Play

State of Play movie poster


The 2003 BBC minis­eries State of Play is noth­ing less than six straight hours of intel­li­gent dra­ma, lib­er­al­ly spiced with sus­pense, action, and tasty plot twists. The entire epic tale is deliv­ered by a ver­i­ta­ble pletho­ra of British Isles tel­ly & movie who’s who: writer Paul Abbot, direc­tor David Yates, and actors David Mor­ris­sey, John Simm, Kel­ly Mac­don­ald, Pol­ly Walk­er, Bill Nighy, and James McAvoy. Abbot is appar­ent­ly a super­star tele­vi­sion writer in the UK, and Yates direct­ed the last two Har­ry Pot­ter films (as well as reunit­ing Nighy and Mac­don­ald in 2005 for The Girl in the Café — read The Dork Report review).

State of Play is an espe­cial­ly good ton­ic after hap­pen­ing to recent­ly watch the dour The Inter­na­tion­al (read The Dork Report review), which falls more or less into the same genre cat­e­go­ry. The key dif­fer­en­tial is a heathy dash of com­ic relief that nev­er cross­es over into farce, most­ly sup­plied by the sub­lime­ly quirky Bill Nighy. But more impor­tant­ly, the intri­cate tale of high-lev­el polit­i­cal con­spir­a­cy feels per­ti­nent. The Inter­na­tion­al, although based on an actu­al bank­ing scan­dal (a top­ic that could not be more time­ly), sab­o­taged its plau­si­bil­i­ty by lim­it­ing the pro­tag­o­nists to two lone wolfs that take on a crooked multi­na­tion­al finan­cial con­glom­er­ate on their lone­some. Here, numer­ous fleshed-out cops and reporters alter­nate­ly clash and col­lab­o­rate as they chase down a gar­gan­tu­an sto­ry. State of Play is actu­al­ly both a clas­sic news­pa­per sto­ry (like All the President’s Men) and a police pro­ce­dur­al (like The French Con­nec­tion). It’s worth not­ing that each of these gen­res are about the piec­ing togeth­er of sto­ries, and the sus­pense comes from the audi­ence fol­lows along with them as the dis­cov­er the pieces of the nar­ra­tive. Grant­ed, the lux­u­ri­ous six-hour run­ning time was a lux­u­ry The Inter­na­tion­al could not enjoy.

Bill Nighy, John Simm, Kelly Macdonald in State of PlayThe Her­ald news­room fol­lows the mon­ey in State of Play

The details of the plot were undoubt­ed­ly time­ly in 2003 and con­tin­ue to be now, proven by its Amer­i­can fea­ture film remake in 2009. After suf­fer­ing through 8 years of a Bush/Cheney admin­is­tra­tion, Amer­i­cans can inti­mate­ly relate to oil com­pa­nies med­dling in gov­ern­men­tal oper­a­tions. Although State of Play is fic­tion­al, the affair between a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment and a staff mem­ber that winds up dead inescapably calls to mind US Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Gary Condit’s affair intern Chan­dra Levy, found mur­dered in 2001. A sub­plot involv­ing an MP’s com­pro­mised expense account now looks even more time­ly than Abbot could have pre­dict­ed in 2003, con­sid­er­ing the atro­cious wide­spread abuse that cur­rent­ly threat­ens to remove Gor­don Brown and pos­si­bly even the Labour Par­ty from pow­er.

David Morrissey & John Simm in State of PlayThe Next Doc­tor faces off against The Mas­ter for the first time

Apart from the some­times over­en­thu­si­as­tic edit­ing (mak­ing the series feel a bit like the satire Hot Fuzz), the only mis­step is Nicholas Hooper’s per­cus­sive, bom­bas­tic score, includ­ing an incon­gru­ous didgeri­doo-infused theme sud­den­ly intro­duced in part six. But one of the series’ great­est plea­sures is to hear Kel­ly Mac­don­ald (a Dork Report crush ever since her unfor­get­table per­for­mance as the ulti­mate naughty school­girl in Trainspot­ting) pro­nounce “mur­der” with all the won­der­ful extra diph­thongs her Scot­tish accent pro­vides.

Offi­cial site:

Must read: BBC’s State of Play Left Me in a State of Awe on Pop Cul­ture Nerd

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