7 July 2003 | mpk-2
Television drama's finest five hours.
Produced at the height of the nuclear paranoia and economic gloom that drove the Britain of Margaret Thatcher and the USA of Ronald Reagan, Troy Kennedy Martin's landmark drama broke new ground and handled uncomfortable subjects with sometimes unsettling depth and accuracy.
The late Bob Peck, in one of television's greatest performances, is Ronald Craven, a Yorkshire detective whose daughter Emma (Joanne Whalley) is gunned down outside their house in what is initially assumed to be a revenge attack related to Craven's former, and shadowy, intelligence past in Northern Ireland. The plot unwinds from here and slowly reveals a grand, all-encompassing conspiracy extending to the very highest levels as Craven investigates the circumstances of, and the motives behind, his daughter's death.
Peck plays Craven with a subtle emotional intensity rarely seen on television, the deadpan delivery of a man in the depths of grief contrasted by the emotions which his eyes always betray. A supporting cast of renegade CIA agents (Joe Don Baker giving the performance he was born for as brash Texan Darias Jedburgh), amiable but slightly sinister civil servants who never quite make it clear who they're working for (Charles Kay and Ian McNeice as Pendleton and Harcourt), environmental activists, trade-unionists, police and self-serving politicians make for a plot that twists and turns unpredictably as Craven's grief-powered explorations lead him ever deeper into the shadows, until the final, devastating, unexpected dénouement in the last episode that almost leaves more questions in the mind of the viewer than it answers.
This is British television drama at its best. Making it in the first place was a brave decision for the BBC, and it hasn't been bettered since. The plot sometimes seems slow at times, but there's always something relevant happening on screen. I do not recommend starting watching half-way through, as you will end up with an incomplete understanding of both the message of the story and the convoluted plot. Take the phone off the hook for five hours and enjoy. It is superb in all aspects from writing to casting to production, and exercises the mind in a way that few dramas do.
Incidentally - the original DVD release received poor reviews, but the 2003 re-release on a BBC DVD is excellent and includes some worthwhile extras as well as the complete uncut series.