Updated November 18

Unlike many television critics in the US, who review individual episodes of series and often have their reviews up within an hour of the episode airing, it appears UK reviewers either preview (and spoil) a new drama series or write a review of the first episode and then leave it at that. Sad, really, because a “slow burn” series such as Secret State cannot be fully appreciated, or critiqued, for that matter, until the end.

So, no reviews in this update. Better stuff! We have tweets from ByrneingCutie, who live tweeted Episode 2, and some stunning screencaps provided by Det. Logan. We thank them both heartily!

tweets

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
10mins until #SecretState starts. Wonder if it will Twitter Trend again? Hope so. Would be nice to get #GabrielByrne trending too.

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
Here’s hoping @Lozzcap has her fire retardant and water proof undies at the ready… #SecretState I know I do…

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
ROFL “This is Richard Head here” #SecretState

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
Red socks folks. Red socks #SecretState

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
Tux and bow tie…. OH MY!!! #SecretSate

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
Ooooh the plot thickens This is excellent stuff. And I have to mention Douglas Hodge. Brilliant performance #SecretState

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
George Clooney fans will be happy with that.

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
Where’s @lozzcap???

Turns out Lozzie had succumbed already and tweeted the next day:

Lozzie @Lozzcap
Sorry for my absence from the Twittersphere last night. I was knocked senseless by the red socks, the tracksuit (again!) and the cigarette.

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
Charles Dance “No need to read tweets now” Read mine if you like!!! #SecretState

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
#GabrielByrne’s accent is not slipping to that degree. Goes from “Posh English” to slightly gravelly. #InKeeping #SecretState

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
Fabulous performance from Our Boy Gabriel Byrne in #SecretState Rupert Graves, Douglas Hodge very good too.

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
Glasses…. taking off glasses… Oh My…. #GabrielByrne #SecretState

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
Oh God that was Irish Accent… the English accent has gone… oh sod it. who cares. #SecretState #GabrielByrne

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
Have to agree with all the folks tweeting that they would vote Gabriel Byrne for PM #SecretState

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
Don’t mess with Gabriel Byrne. #SecretState #DawkinsForPM #HellYeah

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
Oooooooooh!!!!!! Is it next week already???? #SecretState

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
And there ends the second episode of #SecretState really really really good. Can’t wait for episode 3.

If you are interested in reading the tweets of others as they watched this episode, search #SecretState in Twitter. Responses this time around were positive. So positive that many tweeters suggested bringing in Gabriel Byrne as PM in the real world!

Updated November 12

As you will see below, I am feeling a bit more tender-hearted regarding mainstream outlets. Although many online newspapers and magazines proclaim that the jury is still out regarding the merits of this drama–the reviews go from “gripping” to “sexed up”– there seems to be some unanimity regarding Gabriel Byrne’s performance in Secret State: everyone loves him.

Be sure to watch Episode Two on Wednesday! @ByrneingCutie will be tweeting once again and there may be more reviews to share with you as the series progresses.

My take on it? I found Episode 1 engaging, intriguing, and intense. Just like Gabriel Byrne!

more reviews

MSN TV: Secret State’s saving grace is Gabriel Byrne

In praise of Gabriel Byrne

It’s a shame because Gabriel Byrne’s a superb actor who deserves to be headlining something more cutting edge on UK TV – not a reheated version of a 30-year-old book, which doesn’t really have anything fresh to say, just a different way of saying it.

He was astonishingly good in HBO’s In Treatment. His natural charisma certainly pulls Secret State through weak areas as he’s such an easy actor to sympathise with, but there’s only so much he could do.

 A PM in the making

The Arts Desk.com: Gripping update of a 30-year-old political thriller finds big money and government still in cahoots

At the heart of this nexus, Dawkins has his own demons to fret over: a ruined marriage, and the haunting memory of a questionable record as an army captain in Bosnia. Although the conspiracy has so far yielded just the one extra corpse (a pathologist who smelt a very toxic rat in the bodies of two of the blast victims), by the end of this first episode hints of Petrofex’s malfeasance were becoming ever more putrid, while Dawkins’s spine was slowly stiffening.

As an Irishman making his British television debut, Byrne may seem a left-field choice to play a UK politician. But the poker face and soft voice he deployed in In Treatment serve him superbly here, and he has been surrounded by character actors who can play the layers of Secret State consummately. There was even a little cameo for Chris Mullin as a padre loitering outside the PM’s funeral.

This first episode did exactly what any opening of a political thriller should: it took your lapels in a vicelike grip. It doesn’t look as if Secret State will let go until the last mystery has been unravelled. If it’s a happy ending you’re after, step away now.

 Engaging

The Telegraph UK: Gerard O’Donovan reviews new Channel 4 political thriller Secret State, starring Gabriel Byrne as a fraught deputy prime minister. 4 out of 5 stars.

So this was a brand new story, penned by Robert Jones, utilising the concerns of our own times – spin, terrorism, war in Afghanistan, mass communications monitoring, “sexed-up” dossiers and a generalised paranoia about banking and globalisation – to unsettle and disturb.

Byrne was terrific as Tom Dawkins, a tough, charismatic, decidedly un-Cleggish deputy prime minister faced with two enormous problems: a rumoured cover-up over an explosion at a petrochemicals plant on Teesside, and the disappearance of his prime minister somewhere over the mid-Atlantic.

 Intriguing

The Guardian UK: Secret State is just like real British politics – but sexed up and Spookified

There are lots of good performances. I don’t quite believe Byrne as a top British politician taking on the nasty American company that blew a hole in Teesside; he’s too thoughtful, too honourable, too bullshit-free (there’s something of Borgen about him, like the time he abandons a prepared speech and speaks from the heart). He’s certainly very watchable, though, a proper screen presence. The others – Graves and Le Touzel, Dance as the pantomime-villain master-puppeteer, Gina McKee as the journalist – are also good. I was enjoying Tobias Menzies as the PM too, before his plane came down (Charles Flyte he’s called, ho ho). And the vicar deserves a mention too – not for his performance (he doesn’t say anything) but because he’s played by Mullin, now retired from politics.

Intensely observing “the middle distance,” with Rupert Graves

No review from The Times UK because it is behind a paywall. And Entertainment.ie simply reports that the show is on television while including a promo still from the film I, Anna!

November 8

If  The Guardian can call it “Gabriel Byrne’s Secret State,” well then, so can we. Please read to the end. This posting itself is a “political fable.”

The first episode of the new Channel 4 series Secret State aired last night in the UK. Following you will find some early reviews (not the previews we’ve been dealing with for weeks now), comments, images and Tweets. Byrneholics had its own reviewer hard at work tweeting her reactions to the show and Twitter itself was aflame with responses–so much so that Secret State was trending on Twitter in the UK while it was showing.

reviews

ChannelHopping On the Box: review by Alastair Newport

Written by Robert Jones, whose only previous piece of work that I have seen was the disappointing BBC drama Murder…Secret State has all the necessary features of a modern TV thriller, high production values, slick editing and a seriously heavyweight cast who bring the script to life with all the sparkle and pizazz you would expect of a line-up that includes not only Byrne, Mckee and Dance but also Rupert Graves, Douglas Hodge and the unsung Sylvestra Le Touzel; who shines as Dawkins’s cabinet colleague and political adversary Ros Yelland.

On top of the cinematic look and magical cast, Jones has absolutely nailed the difficult task of creating a slow burning yet riveting TV show. His writing is crisp and lean while the dialogue is naturalistic and absorbing. It reminded me of the Wire, in that the best bits were never centred around the action but instead a really good conversation. For instance, a scene between Dawkins and journalist Anthony Fossett (Hodge) is lit up with the lyrical utterance of “You compounded your misdemeanour, on the sofa, with my sister”.

It has been a long time since Channel Four has made anything at this level of and I hope it is a return to the heady days of the 80’s and early 90’s when they seemed to produce prestige TV, such as A Very British Coup, GBH and The Camomile Lawn on a regular basis. After all a return to more mature programming after the adolescent years of Big Brother, T4 and Big Fat Gypsy Weddings would only be appropriate a week or so on from the channel’s 30th birthday.

The Custard

What Secret State lacks in memorable scenes it makes up for with some well-written characters and a great cast of actors who really get under the skin of the politicians they’re portraying. Byrne is amazing in the lead role and for me the character of Dawkins was definitely the best thing about Secret State as the actor is able to make his Deputy PM into a fully-rounded character. We are shown the difference between him and the rest of the cabinet as he is presented as a reserved character seeking refuge in soulless hotels while blocking out the sounds of everyday life with the use of earplugs. Byrne also gives us the impression of Dawkins’ military background as he is definitely a man of action rather than a man of words so that’s what makes his speech about the fallen prime minister all the more impressive. The one thing I could say about Dawkins is that he doesn’t really seem like a real-life politician but the same couldn’t be said about the supporting players all of whom seem interchangeable with our current cabinet. Graves is fantastic as the former public schoolboy who sees himself as the most logical choice for PM while Le Touzel’s foul-mouthed Ros is well-qualified but lacks people skills which was witnessed when she threatened to break Dawkins’ F***ng nose if he ran for PM. Charles Dance is predictably great as the Machiavellian Hodder however I do feel his performance owes a debt to that of Ian Richardson’s in House of Cards. Additionally I loved Douglas Hodge’s performance as the drunken Fossett however I did feel that the brilliant Ruth Negga was wasted a bit in her role as an intelligence operative.

Vulture Hound Magazine

I enjoyed this first episode; like any other show, there’s a lot to get through to establish characters and plot, but it did it well enough to keep my attention. What does worry me however, is the preview of the next episode. What we see in that suggests that the show will become something along the lines of 24; there’s a radar shot of a truck and Tom wavering on a decision to give an order to take the people inside that truck out, and that doesn’t really fit with the events of episode 1 and the style of it either.

It doesn’t seem like the right direction for it to take. I enjoyed the political machinations of this episode, with the home and foreign secretaries immediately lobbying Tom for his support of their respective leadership campaigns, while Charles Dances pops up as a senior figure in the party who is pushing Tom to step up and lead the party. Byrne is an actor I like, and he’s does a lot of things very well in this episode, but I worry that the show will lose its way, despite a strong cast, if it gets too deeply into the espionage and terrorism aspects that episode 2 appears to contain.

There is an interesting story to be told here, about how a government can react in the face of a disaster that could have been avoided and what goes on within the party when its leader is suddenly taken out of the picture, but the direction it goes in next could take it somewhere else, and that I feel would be a mistake.

We’ll see what happens next week, but for now, Secret State is a mini-series that is off to a good start.

Metro UK: Secret State gave us a politician we can actually believe in

The clever construct is to give us, in Tom Dawkins, a politician we can actually believe in. Remember those? Gabriel Byrne is deliberately distant as Dawkins, so that we can project on to him everything we hope for yet never seem to get.

It’s enough for now that he doesn’t give two figs about what anyone thinks of him – which, of course, makes us like him all the more.

images

Thanks to Det. Logan for these lovely screencaps from Episode 1! PS. That is the wonderful Ralph Ineson lurking in the background, protecting the DPM.

 


 

A collage by Stella

tweets

First, a few representative tweets from Byrneholic Karen, who graciously shared her reaction to the show during the commercial breaks:

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
#GabrielByrne
 is looking HOT damn HOT I tell you – with English accent. and glasses. #SecretState

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
Okay okay!!!!! #SecretState is trending!!!! It’s TRENDING!!!!@Byrneholics !!!!!!

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
If only our own Deputy Prime Minister was like Gabriel Byrne…#SecretState

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
Seriously though, #SecretState is one of the best British programmes I’ve seen in ages. Gripping.

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
Well written, very well acted edge of the seat stuff. Brilliant.#SecretState

Karen Blower @ByrneingCutie
Doesn’t give anything away but the best line in #SecretState was “Tell him go fuck himself with a feather duster”

Makes you want to watch it, yes?

A small sampling of representative tweets from viewers of the first episode:

Lozzie @Lozzcap
Never mind Barack Obama. For a few hours over the next 4 weeks, we’ve got GABRIEL BYRNE FOR PRIME MINISTER here in the UK.

Lozzie @Lozzcap
His speech outside #10: I was literally holding my breath. This is a worthy successor to Defense of the Realm…

Mani O’Brien @ShambolicMess
Really enjoyed Secret State just now on Ch4. Gabriel Byrne excellent

Stephen Henry @StephenAHenry
Gabriel Byrne as DPM in secret state – dark, broody and bloody cool, think I’ll sign up for British politics, looking forward to next week

Dave Forrest @DavidSForrest
Secret State on C4 has hooked me in. Gabriel Byrne is excellent.

May @may170779
Watching #secret state. Can u imagine Nick clegg having to deal with what gabriel byrne?!? No, me neither…

Fabian Vinet @fabianvinet
#SecretState, excellent political drama on Ch4 starring the brilliantly understated Gabriel Byrne. British television at its best.

You can follow future episodes and reactions on Twitter by searching #SecretState or #GabrielByrne

comments

This is interesting. I’ve asked Byrneholics to comment here on this posting as well as commenting on threads in the Forum, which is usually the way they share their thoughts. So let’s see if they do! In addition, though, I am quoting some comments from various online venues about the show. Oops. Wait a minute. The Herald.ie, which published a negative review and even reviewed something else in the same review (!), does not allow comments.

Ah, but The Guardian, lambasting the series last week before it even aired (Ludicris and Cobblers played a role in this lambastation) and now bemoaning its relatively small viewership (based on Ep. 1 numbers and not acknowledging the bad scheduling or programming issues at Channel 4), DOES allow comments. And guess what? Most viewers who left comments on the review hate the show. On the lambastation by Sarah Dempster, however, we see another story:

martin77
Recommend
56
Well thanks a bunch for ruining it for all your readers Ms Dempster. Couldn’t you have waited til the show was broadcast before tearing into it and telling everybody whats going to happen. You think that ‘ Gabriel Byrne’s Secret State is ludicrous ‘ . Fine thats your opinion so why not wait til after the broadcast before opening up the discussion ?

Genevastar
Recommend
40
My goodness, Ms Dempster, you really have a down on this, don’t you? Wasn’t there once a convention that you wrote a scathing (and, if I might venture, extraordinarily pretentious ‘am I not clever with my witty use of language’) review AFTER the programme had been aired, not before? I was looking forward to ‘Secret State’ before you shot it down in flames (or should I say explodiing CGI bells?) Fortunately, I still am, since I can’t really believe that this is anything near an impartial (p)review. I do wonder, though, whether I’m the only viewer who would prefer to make up her own mind after having watched than have it made up for her before she’s had the opportunity to do so.

WSobchak
Recommend
35
You could reverse an oil tanker into the gulf between what this review thinks it is (witty, insightful) and what it actually is (trying way too hard). I blame Charlie Brooker, whose reviews were often more entertaining than the shows – now everybody’s trying to make a name for themselves as the coruscating wit of the telly page, hoping a book deal will follow – instead of addressing the basics, like ‘wait until the programme’s aired before outlining the plot.’ Also, think about the intended tone of the programme before reaching for your book of hilarious metaphors – criticizing a thriller for being “ludicrous,” is like criticizing Newsnight for not having enough car-chases.

MadameBovary
Recommend
14
Makes you wonder why she’s got it in for this particular production. Or am I just an old cynic.

Ah, and that’s what hit the nail on the head for me. The Guardian previews the show and hates it. Then they review the show and lament its poor viewing numbers. What is up with The Guardian and this show?

This:

The Telegraph UK

Big Heading: Gabriel Byrne: you can’t get behind the masks of Cameron or Clegg

Subheading: Gabriel Byrne has said it would be impossible to play David Cameron or Nick Clegg as they seemed “meaningless” and were nothing but “interchangeable figure sticks”.

And there you have it. Before he pissed off half of Ireland with his comments about The Gathering 2013, Mr. Byrne apparently pissed off The Guardian (and some UK folks, too) with his comments about UK politicians.

Now you know why most of the reviews I am highlighting are not from mainstream outlets. I am focusing on movie sites and bloggers like me who care about what they are doing and do not answer to anyone for their views. Generally-speaking, they offer very personal and individual insights, not sponsored crap. They are looking at the merits of the program and their response to it. What a concept. A very 21st-century Internet-publishing open communication concept. Oh, and since this is my venue, I focus on reviewers who recognize Gabriel Byrne for the amazing talent that he is. Everything he does may not be gold, but his work is always committed and intense. I appreciate that. So. My house. My rules.

If you want “balanced and fair” journalism, go try to find it. In the meantime, get ready for Episode 2 of Secret State!

 

 

 

15 Comments

  1. I did notice the Guardian’s comment on the poor viewing figures. I also think it could be the bad scheduling of Secret State . From what I understand the viewers in the UK tend to watch tv dramas which start at 9pm.

  2. Having now watched the first episode, Gabriel Byrne certainly lends gravitas to the role.

    Back to the review by the Guardian, I noticed a comment online regarding the journalist’s preview in that to have a more balanced preview what is needed is what worked and what didn’t. There are some positive comments online following the review .

  3. I found 1.st episode of Secret State very fascinating.
    There are so many questions that are raised in this story.
    What kind of morality do big companies and politicians have?
    Is money more important than people?
    How difficult is it to be honest in the world of politics, power and money?

    The cast is great and Gabriel was as expected really interesting and fascinating in his role as Tom Dawkins.

    I hope Secret State will be seen in many countries by many people.

    Let not Secret State be a secret for the audience.

  4. natasha choudhury

    The stage has now been set…looking forward to three weeks of intrigue and high drama.Gabe looked great too! :)

  5. Well said!

  6. Great premise ! That first episode settles the intrigue and a powerful suspense. Perfectly acted and well edited ! I’m hooked !

  7. Bravo Stella! Fabulous job. :)

  8. Stella- great job !

  9. I have seen the second episode with the continuing intrigue. I am looking forward to the unfolding of events next week.

  10. ByrneingCutie

    Just to say, a big thank you to Stella for all her hard work and also inviting me to live tweet during the show. I do try not to tweet anything that would give the story away as that isn’t fair on those who can’t watch “live” or who are waiting until later to see it. But I do aim to entertain during the boring advert breaks :) I will be there again tomorrow (Wednesday 10pm UK time) for the eagerly awaited episode 3. see you there

  11. So glad everyone is enjoying Secret State! I managed to catch the first episode but now I am waiting for the DVD. It will be here soon–a present to myself.

    Thanks to everyone for your kind comments regarding my coverage of the series. And a big shout-out to Byrneing-Cutie for live-tweeting the show. Her tweets are spontaneous, funny, and non-spoilerish, so catch her if you can.

    And aren’t you just pleased as heck at the response Gabriel Byrne is getting for his work in this series? The viewing numbers may be small but the viewers are enthusiastic and so positive in their comments. A number of tweets have requested that GB be the PM in real life! I say no to that–though he would be a good one, no doubt. I’d rather see him on the big and small screens practicing his craft. Next up: Quirke!!!

    :-)

  12. Kim Serrahn aka Connell

    After having watched all four episodes I can definitely say SON OF A BITCH THAT WAS GREAT….
    Sorry about my cussing. The last episode brought me to tears and I still want to cry.
    HUZZARS to all involved.

  13. I have just finished watching the final part. A very convincing performance from Gabriel Byrne-a principled prime minister judging from the last speech he made!

  14. Just got message: dvd has been dispatched. Hurrah. Not long to wait now.

  15. My DVD has been sent out!!! Yayyyyy!!!

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