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Review: State of Play (2003)

October 29th, 2009

Yesterday I finished up watching the BBC miniseries drama “State of Play”, a 2003 production featuring the following IMDB tagline: A thriller set in London, in which a politician’s life becomes increasingly complex as his research assistant is found dead on the London Underground and, in a seemingly unrelated incident, a teenage drug dealer is shot dead.

Featured in the miniseries are David Morrissey and John Simm as the male leads of MP Stephen Collins and Cal McCaffery (an investigative journalist who had served as Collins’ campaign manager and friend back in the day). Supporting are Kelly Macdonald and a very young James McAvoy as journalists, Bill Nighy as their very British editor and Polly Walker as Collins’ wife.

This is one of those miniseries where discussing it too much will just give away plot twists and turns, so I’ll stay somewhat general and discuss the nature of the production.

Ultimately, it is a classic investigative journalist drama… harking back to the early 90s and late 80s themes I recall from my youth. But it’s rather sophisticated in its masking. You don’t really see the various twists and turns coming… as the storytelling is quite first (rather than third) person. You’re seeing what the investigation sees, without having those limitations be so overt as to annoy. You can tell the screenplay was an adaptation of what must have been an engrossing novel of political and journalistic intrigue. [OK, wordy praise now out of the way]

The cast does a knockout job with their performances. Simms and Morrissey are each excellent and McEvoy and Nighy play off each other very well. Also outstanding is Marc Warren in a supporting role. MacDonald is very engaging as what constitutes the female lead and I’m somewhat surprised she hasn’t made a bigger impact on this side of the pond.


The structure of the miniseries (6 roughly 50 minute chapters) breaks up the story well, although the first hour is a little slower with character and story building. I breezed through them in four trips to the gymnasium and remained thoroughly engaged throughout.

On the ten mile scale (1 mile being something that won’t keep me on the elliptical, 10 miles being something that makes me ignore how tired I’m getting), I’d pop State of Play with an 8. The BBC did a great job putting this together and it’s something I’ve already recommended to others. They pack a lot of drama and well masked plot twists in there… far too many for a two hour feature. I plan on watching the Russell Crowe / Ben Affleck US film adaptation next week (State of Play, 2009), so I’ll see how true that holds up.

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