Secret State with Rupert Graves - Review Sherlockabilia Shop Now Open

Secret State with Rupert Graves - Review * 24 December 2012

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Thirty years after it was first published, Chris Mullin's complex political conspiracy thriller novel has found itself dramatically re-imagined as Secret State, a four part mini-series shown on Channel Four in the UK in November 2012. Featuring Gabriel Bryne, Charles Dance, Rupert Graves and Gina McKee among the large cast, the series is formed out of an incident packed four hours, where the machinations of politics, Big Oil, terrorism, the looming threat of war with Iran and past conflict in the Balkans, finance, surveillance and long buried secrets coalesce in a melting pot that is filled nearly to the brim. 

Opening with the aftermath of a devastating explosion at a fuel refinery in North East England ahead of a crucial General Election, the plot concerns the ascent of the deputy Prime Minister Tom Dawkins (Gabriel Bryne) to the head of Government, following the apparent murder of his predecessor in a terrorist attack. From that already dramatic premise, the narrative spins out in a variety of directions that ultimately meet in a neat, idealistic conclusion.

The only major issue with Secret State is the series feels too short, with such a high degree of incident and so many elements packed into its runtime it feels slightly rushed. There is an unshakeable sense that if the plotting had been allowed to stretch on an extra hour or two the entire series would have a greater chance to breath. As it is, Secret State barrels through a huge variety of events at a relentless pace. This in turn would be no issue at all ordinarily - fast paced drama is our bread and butter after all. The crux of the problem is the sheer size of the events depicted lead to a degree of implausibility - the magnitude of them, and that they occur at such an incredible frequency, lends the series an unavoidable tinge of the absurd. There are serious points being made here about nobility from leaders in exceptional circumstances, but the telling renders them slightly inert by the close. 

Enough of the criticism though, for as a sum of the rest of its parts Secret State is excellent television. As you would expect from a cast of such calibre, the performances are superb. Formed around the principled, haunted performance of Gabriel Bryne as Dawkins, who has had the position of Prime Minister seemingly thrust upon him thanks to his outstanding response to the industrial disaster at the start, the other members of the cast circle around him, some benevolently, the rest intent on destroying him, looking for any chink in the armour of the former soldier that will see him thrown down from the ramparts of Westminster.

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Rupert Graves straddles both sides of that line in his role as Felix Durrell, the home secretary. Working mostly in the background of proceedings, he is initially hungry for party leadership, but later uneasily toes the party line when it becomes clear Dawkins is the public's preferred candidate. Consistently dressed in a clean cut suit and impeccably groomed, Durrell is every definition of the quiet, ambitious, and yet potentially dangerous politician. While Rupert is very much a supporting player in the drama, his role is a vital one, and his final appearance onscreen suggests a more prominent rise to power for Durrell at the close. Another Sherlock alumni pops up in the course of the series too - Al Weaver, so memorable as lovelorn Andy in The Blind Banker. He features here as a supervisor at GCHQ who operates on the fringes of the plot, and eventually attempts to impede attempts at unravelling the truth.    

Visually Secret State is cleanly and stylishly shot and edited, and backed with a pulsating yet ominous soundtrack. Make no mistake, the production values are consistently high throughout, and coupled with the excellent work of the cast it is a very good way to spend four hours. Just make sure to be prepared for the very definition of a narrative rollercoaster before you step aboard, as your enjoyment of the ride ahead may very well depend on it.   

Secret State is available now in the UK on Region 2 encoded DVD.  

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