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Blackout - A Spoiler Free Review * 19 July 2012

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A simple morality play masquerading as a complex political thriller, Blackout is a challenging blend of visual and thematic styles cribbed from other sources, anchored by strong performances by its cast, including Christopher Eccleston, Dervla Kirwan, Ewen Bremmer and Andrew Scott.

What appears complicated can often be revealed as extremely straight forward. That's the abiding impression come the conclusion of Blackout. It's the story of Daniel Demoys (Christopher Eccleston), a corrupt council official who during an alcoholic blackout ends up murdering a man who he was passing secret papers to. Wracked with guilt and disconnecting from his wife Alex (Dervla Kirwan) and his children, a sudden and unlikely act of heroism suddenly pushes Daniel into the media spotlight and the gaze of powerful forces, headed by Jerry Durrans (Ewan Bremmer). But all the while, witnesses to the murder begin coming forward, bringing the entire situation to the attention of Dalien Bevan (Andrew Scott), an outsider in the city police force and himself estranged from his own wife Sylvie (MyAnna Buring), a woman who had her own dalliance with Demoys on the fateful night of his blackout.

To say anymore would be to spoil some of the pleasures of this series, but ultimately this intriguingly complex set up is reduced to more basic themes come the close. At its heart, Blackout is a very clear cut statement on the trappings of power and the dangers of alcohol abuse, set in a gigantic nameless city that for all intents and purposes could be a microcosm of the entire world itself. From the greenscreen enhanced opening shot of Demoys surveying the cityscape at night, to views outside the windows rendered with computer graphics, this place literally becomes a character itself; unknown, subtly spectacular and rather threatening. Much of the series takes place under driving, ferocious rain, lit with neon and blasting light, creating an incredibly oppressive atmosphere. Buildings loom large in shots like large slabs, while spectacular aerial shots swoop over their peaks. Arguably the series cribs these visual tricks from other more famous works, most obviously Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and David Fincher's Se7en - particularly in that latter case, the notion of the vast anonymous city, a melting pot for the scenes occurring that could place them anywhere at any time. Coupled with a lightly abstract structure that recalls the trickier work of Christopher Nolan's films, and the almost comic book styled narrative line of Demoys' ascent, the effect is one of a parable; that these events could happen to anyone in any city, anywhere. The only negative that could be attributed to this approach is the sheer scale of the setting and the number of narrative threads - the neo-noir stylings and size of the place feel more suited to an American setting rather than a British city, and the events in the later sections of the series would certainly lend themselves more to that location.

As to the actual human characters, all do excellent work with this unusual material. As Daniel Demoys, Christopher Eccleston has the most challenging role in the series, a fine balancing act that places him as a true anti hero that we end up willing to do the right thing. First seen relentlessly chugging from a frankly astonishing number of bottles and glasses of alcohol, his red and watery eyed descent into hell and then subsequent clawing for redemption makes for fine work. Dervla Kirwan makes the best of a difficult character, playing Alex Demoys with a hugely bottled up frustration and then dawning respect for her husband as the series moves on. Ewan Bremmer, brings power and a reptilian darkside to proceedings, while MyAnna Buring delivers this neo-noir its ostensible fem fatale, both empowered, glamourous, beautiful, and yet surprisingly vulnerable.

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The reason we're here though of course is Andrew Scott, in his first television appearance since Sherlock S2E3: The Recihenbach Fall. Dalian Bevan is a completely different character from Jim Moriarty, being both emasculated and heroic all at once, but he crucially retains Jim's nervous energy and facial tics. It's a more varied performance but nowhere near as impactful as Moriarty, with Andrew consigned to the sidelines in much of episode one, before fully breaking out in the remainder of the series as the only truly principled character in the piece. Like Jim, Bevan is a man skirting on the edges of his sanity, but the emerging circumstances of the murder place him in very real danger that casts him into a pathetic low, with a dramatic final scene for the character that really heighten the comic book trappings of the series.

Blackout is a very different kind of British drama, featuring broad characters and a setting inspired by but ultimately divorced from reality. The fable like quality of the story that emerges is a powerful one, with an ending that could be considered as both a full stop on the piece, but also slightly open ended. The superb performances by the cast are the real reason to invest the time in watching, rather than any expectation of a tightly executed piece of fiction. Thanks to that near constant rain and muddied, tilt shot aided focus that renders much of the image blurred throughout, it is best described as a truly 'murky' thriller, with real clarity for both the characters and the audience only emerging in the final minutes. As an impressionistic morality play, Blackout is unique and challenging, the journey and indeed the ending is a statement on the rise, responsibility, and fall of the powerful in their many forms and roles.

 
 
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