As one of the most critically acclaimed series of 2003, the BBC’s State Of Play went on to become a high point in television drama at a time when few other shows came close to its gritty portrayal of political intrigue, journalistic integrity and the reality of underhand dealings among big business and those elected to high office. Written by Paul Abbott, who went on to script Cracker and Touching Evil as well as a host of other television dramas, the six-part series starred Bill Nighy, David Morrissey and James McAvoy in a plot set around the attempts by a big oil company to avoid legal sanctions over an environmental disaster.
Like many a UK television success, the notion of it getting ‘the Hollywood treatment’ initially underwhelmed the drama’s many fans given how poorly many adaptations have fared over the years. For once, this is not the case and the feature film version is a well constructed affair that keeps to the basic plot of the original with a few new angles that work well in the overall effort. The filmmakers and director elected to shift the geography to America’s political heartland in Washington DC in the belief that the Stateside corridors of power could offer an even more powerful and combustible stew for the world we live in today.
Taking the opportunity to get inside the world of the news media and the often morally grey area of journalistic ethics works as a suitable backdrop to the pursuit of truth in the daily dance between spin and reality that resonates throughout the world.
Russell Crowe plays journalist Cal
McAffrey – the role taken by John Simm in the television series – an overweight and cynical newshound with long hair still bearing the right nose for a big story. Rachel McAdams plays his apprentice Della Frye, an eager beaver who actually fills the role better than Kelly Macdonald in the original. Other characters include Ben Affleck and Jeff Daniels as dubious politicians, Helen Mirren as the newspaper editor, and Jason Bateman as an oily lobbyist/facilitator representing a distinctly shady corporate entity. Everyone, even Affleck, makes a good hand of the clever script by Michael Matthew Carnahan and Tony Gilroy – and director Kevin Macdonald again delivers on the form previously seen in The Last King of Scotland with a rippling pace that incorporates the multiple plotlines with an apparent ease and style.
The filmmakers wanted to look at the current declining state of print journalism and the death of daily newspapers, and how McAffrey stands as one of the few remaining in a dying breed – a traditional journalist who scours each lead until he’s satisfied and who files his story the night before it’s made available in the printed edition of the paper. His colleague, Della, on the other hand, comes from the new school of reporters who are more comfortable with multitasking and for whom the blogger first to publish an opinion is often the only source they bother to use.
Baddies of the piece are PointCorp, a private military contractor that has been using its power to set up the only man who stands in its way of an even more lucrative contract from the Department of Defence in what’s called “the Muslim terror goldrush”. State Of Play does slip in a few sections, mostly smaller parts inserted to enable better audience comprehension in its often complex plot. That said, this is one of the best films so far this year – an intelligent movie that hasn’t strayed too far from its source resulting in a story you’ll think about well into the next day.