Shiny Shelf


By Stephen Lavington on 20 March 2007

WARNING! Contains spoilers!

A good few years ago now, one of the first big (and to date only) hits on the BBC 4 was the one-off drama serial ‘State of Play’ episodes of which the newly launched channel broadcast one week early. ‘State of Play’ hearkened back to ‘Edge of Darkness’ in its invocation of a tangled web of political and business interests giving shadowy significance to the death of a young girl.

In subsequent years the resurgence of quality political conspiracy drama has failed to materialise – the most notable exception being the recent ‘State Within’, an expensive effort which lacked the polish and wit of ‘State of Play.’ Now, however, ITV has stepped up to the crease with ‘Mobile’, which on the surface aspires to be ‘Traffik’ for the 21st century, with a multi-strand narrative tackling the mobile phone industry.

There are some glimmers of hope in the concept. A multi-strand narrative seems a pretty handy way of tackling a subject which could cover the mining of precious minerals in war-torn Africa, the high-stakes financial game of big conglomerates and the possible health-risks of the phones themselves. However, based on the opening part of the trilogy, reality has fallen pretty short of this mark.

Episode 1 is titled the engineer, and runs parallel storylines of a series of bombings and shootings (of mobile phone masts and mobile phone users respectively) with the tale of a former mobile phone engineer now diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour. Are the two interlinked? Of course they are. This in itself is not unexpected – it wouldn’t be much of a conspiracy thriller if plot strands failed to be woven together. However, the manner in which this is done goes beyond preposterous. After 75 minutes of teasing ambiguity – is the engineer responsible or not? – the final reveal is that … he has been hypnotized into committing crimes by psychotherapist John Thomson. Only he hasn’t, it is somewhat confusingly revealed at the end. That wouldn’t be much of a conspiracy would it, and there are two more episodes to go…

It’s a real shame, because there is some potential in the subject (though it is never really exploited) and some solid direction from Stuart ‘Wolves of Willoughby Chase’ Orme. The intention is clearly to raise enough questions and ambiguities to hook viewers for the three-week duration, but a political conspiracy thriller is only as good as its pay-off, and if the ludicrous conclusion of this episode is anything to go by, all expectations will be cruelly dashed.

As ‘Primeval’ demonstrates, ITV can copy the format of successful shows and this is clearly their intention here. However, as with ‘Primeval’, it seems as though the channel lacks the class – for want of a better word – to do so successfully.

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By Stephen Lavington


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