By FRANK BEHRENS
There is a novel by Chris Mulin titled "A Very British Coup" that was dramatized on Masterpiece Theatre several years ago. Now there is another series titled "Secret State," "inspired" by that same book As was the earlier production, this one is a winner! Both sets appear on the Acorn Media label.
After negotiating with a mammoth American company whose factory in England has blown up, the Prime Minister is lost when his plane suddenly disappears over the Atlantic. His replacement is Tom Dawkins (Gabriel Byrne), backed up by the powerful Chief Whip John Hodder (Charles Dance) but conspired against by others in his party, in his own cabinet, and by a certain General.
There is a sequence in which Dawkins is convinced to kill by drone a certain terrorist, who might or might not have been on Iranian soil, and the consequences whip all concerned--but not the public--into a frenzy to make Dawkins declare war. Of course, the American company would make a fortune from it.
His other adversary is the head of a large bank (Anton Lesser), who has the advantage of being "too large to fail" or in this case too large to fight. Only Dawkins is concerned with the people, not with big money. (That is what things are like in fictionland.)
With every phone and private conversation being recorded by a clandestine agency (how life follows fiction!), Dawkins tries to cooperate with an ace reporter (Gina McKee) in trying to get honest news to the people, while trying to forget a past mistake that seemed right at the time.
Anything else I say will be a spoiler. I just want to make "Secret State" required viewing. Each of the four episodes runs at 45 minutes and there are much welcome subtitles.
CASE HISTORIES 2
"Case Histories, Series 2" is now available in a 3-disc set from Acorn Media. There is a moment in it when ex-policeman, now private detective, Jackson Brodie, meets an old flame as she is acting for a television detective series. She describes the lead character as being "some brooding, maverick bloke with a dysfunctional private life." I laughed out loud, because this so perfectly describes nearly every detective show lead in the past ten years!
Having just seen "Hinterland," in which the main character is always seen jogging to blow off steam and think things out, here is Brodie (Jason Isaacs) doing exactly the same--no wonder I can’t tell one of these shows from another--but with a most annoying addition.
Once or twice in the first and third episodes of this series and far too many in the second, we hear some "pop" song with the most banal and prosaic lyrics and music which seems to be improvised by some singer, one of whom can barely stay on pitch. This adds nothing to the drama and seems to be mere padding. All the secondary characters are female. There is his grossly underpaid and overworked secretary Deborah (Zawe Ashton); the only policeman who still likes him, Louise (Amanda Abbington); and his ex-wife and their daughter. He also so clearly fits "brooding, maverick bloke" description, even to the point where most of the comic lines (mostly sarcastic) come from the women around him. The lovely Edinburgh accents add some charm to the grim doings of the plot.
The plots are pretty run-of-the-mill but the acting is good and Isaacs does have a certain knight-without-armor attraction. And it is good to see a clean-shaven face on the cover. The character, by the way, comes from the novels of Kate Atkinson.
Each episode is independent of the others (unlike the two-parters of Series 1) and runs 91 minutes. Again the subtitles are most welcome.
Note. I know I complain too much about the sameness of so many recent detective shows without any constructive suggestions. Perhaps writers should take a hint from Agatha Christie and create eccentric sleuths like Poirot and Marple, or from "Pie in the Sky" and create a lead who detects against his will while trying to make a living in another way, orŠ. Well, let me think more about it.
Frank Behrens reports on classical and Broadway music as well as recordings of books and plays for the Arts & Entertainment section.