Stephen Collins is an ambitious politician. Cal McAffrey is a well-respected investigative journalist and Stephen's ex-campaign manager. En route to work one morning, Stephen's research assistant mysteriously falls to her death on the London Underground. It's not long before revelations of their affair hit the headlines. Meanwhile a suspected teenage drug dealer is found shot dead. These (apparently unconnected) events expose a dangerous habit within modern government of dancing too closely with the corporate devil. Friendships are tested and lives are put on the line as an intricate web of lies unfolds.
One of the BBC's best, this six-part thriller wastes no time building intrigue. It begins like an entry in the fast-paced Bourne series with a foot chase through London, followed by two execution-style hits. Moments later, MP Stephen Collins (David Morrissey) finds out his research assistant, Sonia, was killed in an accident. Newspaper editor Cameron Foster (Bill Nighy) and reporters Della (Kelly Macdonald) and Cal (John Simm), Stephen's former campaign manager, intend to establish whether the events are related. When they realize he's following identical leads for a competing paper, Foster drafts his son, Dan (James McAvoy), to join their investigation. Before long, the team discovers Stephen was having an affair with Sonia. When the news becomes public, his wife, Ann (Polly Walker), leaves him. Then Della finds that the murder victim, a 15-year-old "bag snatcher" from the wrong side of the tracks, contacted Sonia the day she died. He swiped her briefcase, hoping for cash, but found incriminating photos instead--Sonia's death may not have been accidental. From that point forward, it's a free-for-all between the politicians, the press, the police, and big business. An ill-timed affair will complicate matters further.
State of Play embodies British television at its finest. It's also a particularly pulse-pounding portrayal of the journalistic life, a small-screen successor to fact-based films like All the Presidents Men and Zodiac--but with a lot more tea and biscuits. Writer Paul Abbott (Touching Evil) and director David Yates (The Girl in the Café) provide low-key commentary for the first episode, while Yates, producer Hilary Bevan Jones, and editor Mark Day contribute to the sixth. Like 1989 miniseries Traffik, the basis for Steven Soderbergh's award-winning movie, State of Play would later be adapted for the big screen by The Last King of Scotland's Kevin Macdonald. --Kathleen C. Fennessy