Company Pictures, Newscope Films, and Channel Four UK, released in 2012
Writer: Robert Jones
Based on the 1982 novel A Very British Coup, by Chris Mullin
Director: Ed Fraiman
Producer: Johann Knobel
Also starring: Charles Dance, Rupert Graves, Lia Williams, Gina McKee, Ruth Negga, Douglas Hodge, Ralph Ineson, Sylvestra Le Touzel, Tobias Menzies, and Stephen Dillane
Secret State was nominated for the 2013 International Emmy for Best TV Movie/Mini-Series
Gabriel Byrne was nominated for an Irish Film and Television Academy (IFTA) award in 2013 for his work in the series
Filmed in England in early 2012
Premiered in the UK on November 7, 2012
DVD released via Amazon UK December 3, 2012
Premiered in the US on DirecTV November, 2013
October 17, 2012
Gabriel Byrne stars as Tom Dawkins, the reluctant hero at the heart of this contemporary conspiracy thriller, who finds himself thrust into the spotlight of front-line politics when he least expects it and risks everything by taking on the might of the Establishment.
Douglas Hodge, Gina McKee, Charles Dance, Rupert Graves and Ruth Negga also star in the four-part drama written by Robert Jones (Lennon Naked) and directed by Ed Fraiman (The Philanthropist), which is inspired by Chris Mullin’s novel A Very British Coup.
A devastating industrial accident on Teesside leaves several people dead and raises awkward questions about the safety procedures of the US petrochemical company involved. As a man who has a profound belief in transparency and open government, Dawkins will have to tackle vested interests, financial and military, both domestic and international, in his pursuit to uncover the truth and get justice for the families affected by the disaster. Along the way, he will struggle to keep his party onside and the electorate behind him, as he also weathers damaging revelations about his personal life. And as the investigation into the Teesside disaster proceeds, Dawkins becomes aware of the Establishment’s secret ties to the petrochemical company and comes to realise that there are bigger powers at play behind the scenes.
After a major industrial accident kills dozens of people in the north of England, deputy prime minister Tom Dawkins (Gabriel Byrne, The Usual Suspects) takes on a giant American chemical corporation and eventually his own government to uncover the truth. This contemporary political thriller boasts a superb supporting cast including Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) as a reptilian civil servant, Rupert Graves (Sherlock) as a smooth politician, and Gina McKee (The Borgias) as a tough journalist. —Acorn Media, published on Aug 29, 2014
More promotional stills for Secret State are available in the Gallery.
More images for Secret State are available in the Gallery.
The Telegraph (UK)/Chris Harvey (November 2, 2012)
Gabriel Byrne on 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.
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.”
Byrne was attracted by the opportunity to play a British politician, he says, dealing with a crisis that has implications for the entire country and the world…
“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.
I ask him about playing powerful individuals, from crime lords to shrinks. Does he see himself as a powerful person?
“No, I am, like most people, tentative about life. But I am fascinated by power and I think that politics and history are about power, and crime in its way is about power. Sometimes there’s little difference between a powerful businessman and a powerful criminal in the way that they interact with the world. I’ve watched people acquire power, I’ve met many powerful people and I’m always fascinated by the aura that surrounds them.
The Telegraph (UK) October 21,2012
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”.
The actor, who stars in a new political TV drama, said the two men at the head of the Coalition could not be imitated as they were “just masks”.
Byrne said that while Michael Sheen – who has played Tony Blair in three films – showed how the persona of the former Labour prime minister could be captured, it was impossible to do the same with Cameron and Clegg.
The actor plays a deputy prime minister who takes over power following the death of the premier in Secret State, a drama series to be screened on Channel 4 next month.
It is an updated version of late-1980s television series A Very British Coup. Byrne plays a humane and considerate politician with integrity, a scenario he describes as “a fable, a political fantasy”.
In an interview with the Sunday Times magazine, he was asked whether he had anyone in mind upon which to base his character.
He said: “No. You can’t imitate Cameron or Clegg – there’s nothing to mimic. They’re just meaningless. Blair had something imitable, as Michael Sheen proved.
“These other two are just masks and you can’t get behind their masks. There’s nothing to parody – they’re interchangeable figure sticks.”
NOTE: There are 49 comments to this article!
More screencaps from all 4 episodes of Secret State are available in the Gallery.
This clip from the DVD, and its transcription, contains the closing speech by Prime Minister Tom Dawkins that occurs at the end of the final episode.
Tom Dawkins (Gabriel Byrne): The Iranians did not kill our Prime Minister. Petrofex did. It seems the company was transporting a sample of the new drone fuel in the plane the Prime Minister was using. The same drone fuel that we now know accounted for the ferocity, though not the onset of the explosion at Scarrow which killed 19 people and injured 94. The container was damaged in an accident at Houston Airport in Texas and probably came into contact with a catalyst in the hold when the plane passed through an electrical storm.
Am I certain of this information? No, I’m not. Am I sure that Sammy Sharour blew the plane up acting on Iranian instructions? No, I’m not. Am I sure that a shadowy coalition of the markets, the banks, big business, and Americans will go into meltdown if peace breaks out? Again, no I’m not. I put this to you: are we going to toss away countless British and Iranian lives on the strength of information we’re less than sure of? You tell me. Because you’re going to have to vote on this. So let’s put ourselves on the line here for once, as Agnes Evans did, and Tony Fosset did. Let’s forget party allegiance, forget vested interest, forget votes of confidence. Let each and every one of us think only of this: Is this war justified? Is it what the people of this country want? Is it going to achieve what we want it to achieve? And if not, then what next?
Well, I tell you what I think we should do. We should represent the people of this country. Not the lobby companies who wine and dine us or the banks and the businesses that tell us how the world goes round. Not the trade unions that try and call the shots or the civil servants or the war-mongering generals or the security chiefs. Not the press magnates and multi-millionaire donors demanding dinner at Number Ten. Not the whips or the party lines or the status quo. The people of this country, I put it to you, do not want another war. A fact I’m sure of, sure enough to stake my political career on it.
John Hodder (Charles Dance): Tom, please, enough!
Tom Dawkins (Gabriel Byrne): No, John, it’s not enough. It’s not nearly enough. I’ll tell you what enough should be. Enough would be learning from our past and not bull-dozing our way into another
unwarranted illegal war. Enough, I say enough would be returning democracy to this house and to the country it represents. To that end, I take the unprecedented step of calling for a vote of No
Confidence in my own government.
Felix Durrell (Rupert Graves): What the hell’s he doing?
Tom Dawkins (Gabriel Byrne): If you want war with Iran and you want business as usual, go ahead. Vote against me. But if you are prepared to take back responsibility and to take a step into uncharted territory for something that you REALLY care about, something that you believe is right, join me and vote against this government.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gabriel Byrne’s Secret State is Ludicrous
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. As is the modern TV thriller way, Secret State refuses to let us breathe. It’s all bang this and boom that. Pounding, panicky drums and Meaningful Glances are crammed into every frame, like a herd of bison into a broom cupboard. Everything is spelled out in 3,500pt Hope You’re Getting All This At The Back font. At first you may find yourself pining for the silences and the realism of the 80s conspiracy dramas Secret State is so keen to emulate, along with the skull-fizzing thrill of a plot so ferociously complex you need a compass, crampons and slab of Kendal mint cake to make it past the title sequence. But then you watch Charles Dance snarling like a dog as he twiddles his cufflinks outside No 10 and remember the intense joy of unfettered TV stupidity. Secret State is Spooks with its head in a bucket of dumb. It’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Sigh. Brains and depth are all very well and good but sometimes you just want something (voice rises, eyebrows scrunch) … WITH BALLS.
more from Byrneholics
We covered the series in some detail, including episode live tweeting by ByrneingCutie and others and a roundup of press and reviews for the series.
A sampling of ByrneingCutie tweets:
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
Charles Dance “No need to read tweets now” Read mine if you like!!! #SecretState
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
Secret State has streamed on Acorn Media and Ovation Channel in the past; as of 2020, it is available at Amazon US.
Format: Multiple Formats, Color, Dolby, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only)
After a devastating industrial explosion kills 19 people, Deputy Prime Minister Tom Dawkins (Gabriel Byrne, The Usual Suspects, In Treatment) investigates the cause of the accident and seeks justice for the families of the victims. Matters are complicated with a shocking plane crash involving the Prime Minister, which leaves Chief Whip John Hodder (Charles Dance, Game of Thrones, Bleak House) poising Tom for the appointment of replacement PM. As Hodder’s orchestration pits candidates Ros Yellend, Felix Durrell (Rupert Graves, Garrow’s Law, Sherlock), and Tom against each other, Tom’s mission for retribution becomes muddled as he gets stonewalled by a petrochemical company.Based on the novel A Very British Coup by Chris Mullins, this four-part series follows Dawkins along a quest for the truth that is mired with financial, diplomatic, and personal hurdles that include a banking scandal, impending war, and his most personal secrets being exploited by journalist Ellis Kane (Gina McKee, The Forsyte Saga, Notting Hill) as political fodder. As Dawkins gets more entwined in unraveling an international conspiracy, he learns to face his challenges with the utmost fortitude as a political leader.
Format: PAL, Colour, Widescreen, HiFi Sound
Region: Region 2 (This DVD may not be viewable outside Europe)
Secret State is a four-part political thriller inspired by Chris Mullin’s novel A Very British Coup, delving into the relationship between a democratically elected government, the military and the markets.In the run up to a general election, an accident on Teesside raises awkward questions about the safety procedures of a US petrochemical company, PetroFex. The Prime Minister claims to have secured a compensation package from them, but on his return from PetroFex HQ, his plane crashes in the Atlantic under mysterious circumstances.Deputy Prime Minister Tom Dawkins (Gabriel Byrne) takes the reins and during his quest to find justice and the truth for the victims on Teesside, he uncovers a conspiracy at the heart of the political system.How will he deal with the powers at play? And can he remain that rare thing: a decent, honest man in politics?
behind the scenes videos
the author’s experience as an extra
Author Chris Mullin appeared in the series as the vicar in Episode 1. He published a diary of his experience in The Guardian. An excerpt:
I am to stand at the church gate and greet mourners. When the grieving widow arrives, I am to take her hand and accompany her to the church door. Next to me stands Rupert Graves. He is a senior member of the government, but he is not sure which. He buttonholes a passing production assistant. “One question: am I the Chancellor or the Home Secretary?” The scene is shot repeatedly, perhaps 10 times. Then we move to the church door where I am to greet Gabriel, the acting PM, who sweeps down the path accompanied by stony-faced protection officers and the head of MI5, with whom he is in a whispered, deeply serious conversation. The party is preceded by a camera crew, walking backwards. When they reach me, the scrum miraculously parts, conversation ceases, and Gabriel looks at me meaningfully. At this point, I am to utter the first of my four humble sentences: “Hello, Charles always spoke highly of you.” Charles is the dead PM. Gabriel replies: “Thank you, vicar.”
I have been sent a preview. Gabriel looks suitably grave and prime ministerial. Charles is suitably sinister. Gina is radiant as the whistle-blowing journalist. It races along with great speed and credibility. Soon we are at the memorial service. And sure enough, there I am in my full vicar’s gear. The camera lingers for all of five seconds. And that’s it. Gone is my much-filmed walk to the church door with the widow. Gone my brief exchange with the acting PM. Gone my three precious sentences praising the dead PM. (Gone, too, a 20-strong choir.) So that’s it. My acting career lasted all of five seconds. But, hey, who cares? It’s a great film.
Charles Dance, Chris Mullin, Gina McKee, and Gabriel Byrne
Many thanks to Det. Logan for some images and Byrneing Cutie for her tweets!