This is a compilation of the early reviews for Secret State as it premiered on UK television.
Updated November 5
In this case, we must “Remember, Remember, the Seventh of November” and be sure to watch (if you are one of the lucky inhabitants of the UK that gets to see this show!) the first episode of Secret State.
Gabriel Byrne laughs darkly when asked if he based his latest character, deputy prime minister Tom Dawkins, on any contemporary politicians. ‘There wouldn’t have been anything to go on – they’re all so furiously acting being themselves,’ he says. ‘Dawkins is a throwback to the time when it wasn’t all just image and spin.’
Dawkins is also a man of principle, a quality Byrne believes is in short supply. In Secret State, a four-part political thriller that marks his belated starring debut on British TV, he creates a solid man of integrity, not destined for the spotlight, who finds his hat unexpectedly thrown into the ring when a national crisis strikes.
‘That’s his battle,’ says Byrne. ‘He represents the dichotomy between who we are and what we’d like to be. He may not see himself as a leader but he has to make a stand.’ Or as one party grandee, played by Charles Dance, tells him: ‘You give off stability, Tom – and people are craving that.’
Updated November 4:
At BBC Radio 4: Front Row, award-winning political commentator Andrew Rawnsley discusses the first episode of Secret State. Mr. Rawnsley is a big fan of the original dramatized version of A Very British Coup (1988), but he acknowledges that times have changed and the issues facing government are very different 25 years later.
The Gravesdiggers-Rupert Graves Fans-Tumblr site is a good place to visit so you can see whatever they, the lucky ones in the UK, have to say about the show!
Updated November 3:
From Time Out London [This article is no longer available on the Internet]
Is Byrne a morally courageous person?
He sits for a long time, stroking his chin. ‘That’s a very hard question for most people to answer. I think we’re all brave in different ways. I know I’ve been tested in certain ways…’ He looks thoughtful, before shifting in his chair and shrewdly moving the conversation back to politics. ‘I see a Shakespearean character in Blair – he has a major soliloquy going on in his head. How do you live with a decision like the one he made [over Iraq]? It fascinates me that he suddenly converted to Catholicism, where all sins are forgiven and salvation is guaranteed.’
From Time Out London [This article is no longer available on the Internet]
From “The ten best TV shows of the week”
Gabriel Byrne is superb as shambling, reluctantly idealistic Deputy PM Tom Dawkins, forced to step in when his boss’s plane goes down. He faces a looming general election, mutinous colleagues and the fallout of an industrial explosion at an American-owned chemical factory in north-east England. A top-notch TV cast (Gina McKee, Charles Dance, Stephen Dillane) work with Byrne to carve out the characters in a relentlessly plot-driven piece, chockful of exposition and sometimes too pacy for its own good. But it’s undeniably gripping.
Original posting November 2
Well, actually the new series starts on Channel 4 UK on Wednesday, November 7. We here in the United States feel it started a few months ago, however. We are up to our eyebrows and earholes in the political campaign season, but the end is nigh. Ironic that this intensely political drama will begin the day after we have decided who we want to lead us for the next four years! I voted early, of course, so I am ready, willing, and able to focus on this new show from the other side of the pond. Interesting how difficult presenting information about this series has become–the pay-walls at various websites mean UK viewers know more about Secret State than the rest of the global community and the “geo-blocking” policies of the channel making the series available mean that I cannot provide behind-the-scenes videos that UK citizens can view to their heart’s desire. Worse yet, some information is still only available in print. And one of these articles apparently mentioned Byrneholics. Wah! The “secret state” certainly exists when it comes to the reviews and interviews published in the UK about this drama. I hope that this “political fable” called Secret State touches on concepts of open and free communication, which is what the “global community” is supposedly all about. I would recommend that everyone read Lawrence Lessig’s classic book “Free Culture” (this link takes you to a free PDF of his book):
A free culture is not a culture without property, just as a free market is not a market in which everything is free. The opposite of a free culture is a “permission culture”—a culture in which creators get to create only with the permission of the powerful, or of creators from the past.
OK. Enough ranting. Below you will find the cool stuff I was able to get my hands on. I thank these media outlets for making their information available to the world. Except for The Guardian–but more about that later.
RTÉ Ten TV Blog
Star of the Week: Gabriel Byrne
From “Bracken” to “The Usual Suspects” to “In Treatment,” almost everything Gabriel Byrne’s put his hands to as an actor has been a joy to watch. The Dubliner’s latest is “Secret State,” a new four-part drama for Channel 4.
Gabriel Byrne interview for Secret State: playing the power game
Gabriel Byrne tells Chris Harvey how brushes with Reagan and Thatcher helped him in his first starring role on British television, in Channel 4’s Secret State.
“[Secret State] is not in any way a remake,” he is anxious to point out, “it is a re-imagining of the elements of the basic story but it deals very much with a contemporary Britain, particularly the relationship between government and very big business.”
We are talking in April, with evidence still being heard by the Leveson Inquiry. He weighs his words carefully, barely touching his strong black coffee. The blue eyes that have made him a somewhat unlikely sex symbol flash irregularly with charm, but otherwise maintain a steady intensity. There is a stillness to him, a quiet, evenness of tone that, in the hush of the room, suggests a natural storyteller, a man used to being listened to.
“When you set out a story like this, the language of a thriller dictates that you want to know what happens next. But at the end of the story, what one hopes for is that people begin to question the world around them.”
“This is essentially a fable about an honest man who assumes the highest political office and very quickly comes up against all the powers who are determined to curtail his ambition. He’s a populist and probably an idealist and I think that one of the things that comes out of the story is that in the world of cold, hard economics, politics and business there’s not really that much room for the idealist.”
The drama develops its deepening web of interconnections convincingly from the start. And Byrne plays the lead with subtle conviction, giving off a vulnerability and warmth that pulls the viewer towards his side.
And don’t forget this article also from the Telegraph UK:
Gabriel Byrne: you can’t get behind the masks of Cameron or Clegg
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”.
Non-interchangeable stick figures Sylvestra Le Touzel, Gabriel Byrne, and Rupert Graves
in a scene from “Secret State”
Radio Times UK [This review is no longer available at Radio Times UK]
Review by: Jane Rackham
From the apocalyptic opening scene, this political thriller – very loosely based on Chris Mullin’s novel (and then Bafta-winning drama) A Very British Coup – grabs you by the throat and doesn’t release you from its grip for a second. Think State of Play or Edge of Darkness.
Gabriel Byrne plays Deputy Prime Minister Tom Dawkins, who’s been left with a right mess to clear up after an explosion in an American-owned petrochemical factory in Teesside, which has killed several people and devastated the local community.
Journalist Ellis Kane (Gina McKee) smells a conspiracy, but although Dawkins is prepared to listen to her, his colleagues in the corridors of power are more interested in a looming general election. Adding to his problems, MI5 spooks are listening in to and watching his every move, determined to derail any investigations.
Charles Dance as Chief Whip John Hodder (a Francis Urquhart-style puppet master) is wonderfully reptilian, while Sylvestra le Touzel has hewn her tough and ambitious Foreign Secretary character from granite.
Review by: Sarah Dempster
Gabriel Byrne’s Secret State is ludicrous
‘You could reverse an oil tanker into the gulf between what “Secret State” thinks it is (important, good) and what it actually is (cobblers with exploding CGI bells on)’
…Meanwhile, in the middle of the woe, there is Gabriel Byrne, peering perpetually into the middle distance with the pained absentmindedness of a man with an undiagnosed urinary tract infection.
Oh my. Someone had a big glass of vitriol at lunch. So ironic that this very negative review is freely available to everyone who might be even remotely interested in watching this new series. While a harsh and excoriating review might be acceptable for any artwork, it seems inappropriate to publish such a review before the artwork has even been seen by the viewing community. Does The Guardian have a beef with Channel 4? Is Sarah Dempster a Gabriel Byrne hater? Why does she refer to it as “Gabriel Byrne’s Secret State?” He did not write or direct it. Ah, she has read some of the interviews that I have not–the interviews in which he discusses the focus of the drama and comments on UK politics and politicians. The light is dawning. I, unlike Ms. Dempster, will wait until I and the rest of the viewing community have had an opportunity to see this show before pontificating on its merits. Mr. Byrne has noted that he sees Secret State as a political fable. I know the difference between reality and fables. I also know that we need fables to help us understand reality. Witness the US election process! I hope those who have read her review will withhold their judgment until they have enjoyed the series in its entirety. Then we can talk more.
PS. What is a cobbler?
For the record:
Cast and crew
Tom Dawkins: Gabriel Byrne
John Hodder: Charles Dance
Paul J Clark: Stephen Dillane
Felix Durrell: Rupert Graves
Anthony Fossett: Douglas Hodge
Sgt Wrigglesworth: Ralph Ineson
Ros Yelland: Sylvestra Le Touzel
Gina Hayes: Anna Madeley
Ellis Kane: Gina McKee
Agnes Evans: Ruth Negga
Lee Foulds: Jamie Sives
Joss Leyton: Al Weaver
Laura Duchenne: Lia Williams
Rachel Gough: Susan Cookson
Nills Jacobson: Russell Kilmister
Graham Gough: Tony Pritchard
Charles Flyte: Tobias Menzies
Dr Mark Ashcroft: Jason Done
Rosie Miller: Sophie Ward
Meeting chairperson: Paul Elsam
Meeting protester: Paul Codman
Downing St journalist: Charles De’Ath
Downing St journalist: Becky Hindley
Downing St housekeeper: Eithne Browne
Political correspondent: Andrew Pollard
Vicar: Chris Mullin (author of A Very British Coup!)
Director: Ed Fraiman
Producer: Johann Knobel
Writer: Robert Jones
The DVD will be available on December 7, 2012 according to AmazonUK.
Some of the reviewers are really harsh. Like you,I think it’s up to the viewers to make up their mind about the series. A cobbler is a person who mends shoes as a job.
The English language is full of nuances, idioms and at other times a minefield when it comes to figuring out what people actually mean.
I don’t read film reviews and make up my mind after I have gone to the cinema.
I also agree with your point of needing fables to understand reality.
I just bought my Saturday copy of the Guardian which has a pocket sized listings magazine called The Guide which has listed Secret State as pick of the day on the 7th of November.
Well, I am glad to hear that they noted it in a more positive way! Thanks for sharing that, T.
In this case the term “cobblers” or “Load of old cobblers” means nonsense, rubbish. It is actually taken from the Cockney rhyming slang “cobblers awls” which means “balls” as in male appendage. So basically she’s saying it’s “bollocks”. There is no X in that word by the way. Enough said I feel…
An awl by the way is ancient device for punching holes in things, so was mainly used by leather workers i.e shoe makers or cobblers as they were known.
Regards the video’s I tried to sign up using Twitter like it said I could. But then they made me jump through so many hoops I gave up. I will try again if you want, but they’re not making it easy for some reason. So even though I live in the UK I can’t see them either. Which is ridiculous.
Will let you know how I get on….
I wasn’t sure whether the reviewer meant a load of cobblers until you mentioned it. I had thought about whether she was referring to that expression given the rest of the tone of the article.
Yes I’m afraid that is what she means. One could say the same about her article though couldn’t you? Never mind. All publicity is good publicity as they say.
I reread the cobblers comment and it was a scathing article.
I was curious to read the comments following the article. Amongst the comments were to wait before the programme was broadcast before opening up the discussion, that it is a very impartial (p) review and that they would make up their own mind after viewing it.
And thanks, Karen and T., for your thoughtful comments. I just knew “cobblers” meant something besides “shoe-maker” in this context! LOL
I do tend to err on the side of optimism here at Byrneholics and I generally wait until something has been officially released/published/whatever to have a go at it. Mr. Byrne has made his share of clunkers (and had fun doing them, too!), but I cannot imagine that Secret State is going to be one of them. I, being in the USA, will have to wait for the DVD in order to make any judgment. So you in the UK have your fun! :-)
I pre ordered my DVD today… Santa can bring it me for Christmas…
Pffttttttt. to the reviewer. She must have tried to have a go at Mr.B. and being turned down flatly. I’m with everyone here wait and see. But I can’t see him doing anything but good in this one. I wonder if someone out there would be my Santa and order it for me. Oh Son…..
I am sure we are all looking forward to watching and preordering the series. I love the publicity photo with the predominance of blues!
Kim and Karen are getting their Xmas lists ready early! As am I. I love that blue photo too. All those blues PLUS those blue eyes. Great stuff!
I am just going through my Sunday papers. The Sunday version of the Guardian has picked Secret State as choice of the day . The Sunday Times pick of the week is Secret State. There’s an interview with Charlotte Rampling and Barnaby Southcombe in the Sunday Times magazine as well.
Thanks for sharing this positive news, T. Seems everyone is picking this drama as the one to watch. And so cool about the “I, Anna”-related interview!
Just to say that in the main Guardian paper there’s a half page ad for Secret State. It had Gabriel Byrne on the left hand corner with the background of an oil refinery and Big Ben on page 21!
I recorded Secret State and have watched it up to the second ad break. I have to say he makes a very good speech outside no 10 Downing Street!
Having read the ‘rubbishing’ which the Guardian TV reviewer meted out to Secret State — wholly generic, predictable to the point of being risible — I tuned in last evening with low standards. At this point my view is: disbelief suspension essential to enjoy this. But I’ll be tuning in next week — probably …
However, what to make of scritwriter’s ‘referencing’ of Brideshead Revisited? ‘Charles Flyte’ has got to be an amalgam of Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte — the one, born an outsider, and desperately in love with the privileged — aristocratic and Catholic! — world of Sebastian. I could happily decode this if it were the name of Gabriel Byrne’s charater [played with the authenticity characteristic of Byrne’s acting, and his views on ‘Irishness’]. Can anyone help?
It would be great if we could ask the scriptwriter had referenced ‘Brideshead Revisited’ in the naming the character Charles Flyte.
Excellent moderation of my musings. Would be nice if fellow GB enthusiasts could know it was ‘my’ puzzle, tho’….
terrific: the Brideshead referncing just like final episode of BBC Sherlock, precise allegory of Bloody Sunday. These writers for TV the new Dickens, Eliot, etc.? Simply brilliant!