I've said it before and I'll say it again. Television has become the stomping grounds for some riveting viewing. And while I've combed over some of the finest series that HBO has to offer, I feel like I'm missing a large sample of some of the best out there via the BBC network. David Yates' six hour mini-series titled "State of Play", released in 2003 and out on DVD this month, confirms my belief.
Edited and paced to breathless perfection, "State of Play" follows a crew of journalists as they try to uncover the reasons behind the suicide of a powerful politician's research assistant. On the same day, a young black youth is executed in an alley. Lead journalist Cal (John Simm) picks up the story, initially, due to his once close friendship to the politician (David Morrissey) who lost the female assistant. It's not long before corruption, sex scandals and shady backdoor dealings overtake the investigation. As Cal inches closer to the truth, director David Yates treats the winding narrative as if he's examining the complicated maneuvers of the Cold War, which means every whisper or newly uncovered fact is treated with paranoia, deception and intrigue. There's not a false moment in the entire six hour series, which boats strong supporting performances from faces such as Kelly MacDonald (sooo good as a Texas wife in "No Country For Old Men") who gets to show off her extremely sexy Glascow accent in every scene, and the great Bill Nighy who won a BAFTA for his role as the paper's editor. Rounding out the group of hard-nosed, relentless journalists is Benedict Wong (from last year's "Sunshine"), James MacAvoy (now the new heartthrob after his leading role in "Atonement") and Amelia Bullmore.
"State of Play" belongs in that category of incessant viewing. Spanning two discs, I actually got upset that I had to wait before the next disc was shipped to me. It's not that each episode ends on a cliffhanger, but Yates and writer Paul Abbott build up such terrific energy as each side is given weight. This is not just a journalistic procedural film (though it excels at that), but the politician played by Morrissey is involved with high stakes energy committees in the government, and if recent movies have taught me anything, its that the corporations are the ultimate evil. Constantly shifting back and forth between the propulsive investigative tactics of the journalists and the social/political collapse of Morrissey
as more of the truth emerges about the relationship with his dead assistant, "State of Play" renders the whole event as a multi-faceted sequence of events. Basically, it gets its hooks in you pretty quickly. If you're a fan of this type of thing, then "State of Play" will knock your socks off.
Thanks to Anne Thompson at her blog for alerting me to the greatness of this series.
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