There are many examples of excellent BBC series and miniseries. Some eventually get remade into American shows. State Of Play is one of those fantastic BBC drama thrillers that is now making its way to American audiences, not as a copycat series, but as a major box office film staring Russell Crowe. While I have not seen this theatrical release as of yet, I am intrigued with the story and will eventually find myself watching this movie version. Unfortunately for the likes of Crowe and director Kevin Macdonald, I have a hard time believing that a 2 hour film can pack in as much detail and character development as this 6 hour BBC production has managed to do. I literally watched the entire 6 hours in one sitting. It’s not the Herculean effort you might be thinking, and I’m certainly not bragging here. It’s one of those stories that plays out so well and is paced so perfectly that the hours literally fall away. Before you know it a quarter of an entire day has passed you by and you don’t feel tried, tired, or put out from the time.
The series begins by depicting a rather brutal street murder. It’s a misleading beginning. You might expect this thing to become a marathon of slayings and envelope pushing violence. Nothing could be further from the truth. The six hours will never again get this bloody. The scene is intended as a shock to the system to immerse you quickly into the tale. In the next instant we learn that a woman named Sonia Baker (Macdonald) has apparently “toped herself”. That’s British for committed suicide. She seems to have thrown herself in front of a commuter train. This might not make for big news except that Sonia Baker was the assistant to a member of Parliament who also chairs the Energy Commission. That body is currently holding highly publicized hearings to assess punitive damages to the oil companies. The member of Parliament, or PM, as they’re commonly referred to, is Stephen Collins (Morrissey) who is a young up and comer in the party. It is also soon revealed that Collins had an affair with the young assistant. The story is picked up on by Cal McCaffrey (Simm), a young hotshot investigative reporter, who also happens to be Collins’ best friend and former campaign manager. As McCaffrey uncovers fact after fact, it becomes apparent that his friend isn’t telling the whole truth. Their relationship becomes strained, not helped by McCaffrey’s pursuit of a romance with Collins’ wife, Ann (Walker). The paper’s editor, Cameron Foster (Nighy) assembles a team to cover the evolving story in spite of pressure from the government to let it slide. Obviously, we’ll discover that both crimes are related, and each episode unravels a new important piece of the puzzle until the mystery is revealed. There’s enough conspiracy and government cover-up here to satisfy even X-Files fans. Sorry, no aliens.
The cast really makes this thing work. Powerful performances by Bill Nighy and Polly Walker allow us to get through those moments when the series gets sidetracked and bogged down in too many domestic issues. I really could have done without the Ann/Cal affair, but I can’t help but get sucked into a solid showing by Walker, who would later turn in an even more stunning performance as Atia in HBO/BBC’s Rome. Bill Nighy is always a treat to watch. Even without vampire fangs or a face filled with tentacles and barnacles, he steals every single moment he’s on screen. He plays an often small but quite pivotal role here. His character doesn’t really come into its own until the last couple of episodes, but Nighy’s not one to let even the most minute opportunity slip by. Marc Warren provides some comedy relief as Dominic Foy, a patsy the paper team scams to get some information. It’s one of the best running gags in the series. David Morrissey has to carry the bulk of the payload here and he’s fine, but too often gets outplayed by his fellow cast members. There’s not the kind of strength to this character that a man who has risen so far so quickly would by necessity have in spades. I’m sure this is one area in which the new film likely exceeds this effort. With Ben Affleck in the role I expect to see more pathos. Finally, I also doubt that John Simm’s performance can stand up to Russell Crowe as Cal.
The series gives us a rather detailed look at both British politics and journalism. More importantly, we get to see how they interact. American audiences might not have the patience with the depiction of this foreign bureaucracy, but really there are more similarities than differences. The new film puts this into an American arena, which is really too bad. The decidedly British system and culture of propriety makes this one a bit fresher and far more interesting to an audience who has seen too many political thrillers cut from the same molds. Whether or not you’ve seen or liked the new movie, I believe this is a release that stands on its own. There’s no question that the new film’s release is responsible for us finally getting this BBC mini-series on DVD here in the states. Check it out and give it a chance. There is some compelling drama here.
Each episode of State Of Play is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. Unfortunately this is a very average video presentation. Colors and black levels all fall into that decidedly mediocre category. It looks very much like a television broadcast. You’re never going to mistake this for a major release. Still, average works for this release. There aren’t any bad artifact problems. I was glad to see them put only 3 episodes per disc. Things are starting to get ridiculous with 4 and sometimes 5 or 6 hours on a single disc.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 track services the dialog, nothing more, nothing less.
There are a couple of Commentary Tracks. Too much dead air and back slapping make both rather uneventful.
Only the Commentary Tracks.
This mini-series should go a long way toward making buzz for the movie. I know the release was intended to benefit from the movie’s release, but I really think more the opposite will be true. At least it will be true for me. It will be fun to compare and contrast the two efforts down the road. Perhaps that will come with the eventual release of the movie on home video. Whatever the real reason or dynamic between the two projects. we finally get this one to watch here in the States. “You lucky bugger.”