thu 25/07/2024

Secret State, Series Finale, C4 | reviews, news & interviews

Secret State, Series Finale, C4

Secret State, Series Finale, C4

Hectic conspiracy thriller unveiling power networks of UK plc needed more time to breathe

'You get to the top, and you realise it’s really only the middle': Gabriel Byrne as PM Tom Dawkins

Was it a fluke that Secret State concluded its business on the day Lord Leveson handed in his homework? Maybe they really are that clever at Channel 4. Where Leveson has investigated the invisible nexus connecting the press, the police and Westminster, Secret State has delivered its verdict on a comparable ratking of vested interests linking government, banks, oil, the military, defence contractors, MI6, old uncle Tom Cobbleigh et al.

By last night’s closer, every man jack of them was clamouring for a lucrative war with Iran, and they were all somewhat miffed when hyper-idealistic Prime Minister Tom Dawkins (Gabriel Byrne, looking more and more like Gordon Brown) climactically called their bluff.

Secret State, based on a novel written by Chris Mullin all of 30 years ago, has had shouty things to say How Things Are Really Run in this country. The manner in which it said them possibly detracted from the impact of the message’s salutary cynicism. Wedged into four high-octane episodes, where six or even 10 would have been (say) the Danish option, it increasingly came across as the comic book version of political drama.

Thus key exchanges were rarely allowed to take more than a couple of shallow breaths before we were hurried on to the scene of the next crime against the body politic. In order to facilitate economy of storytelling, everyone had free access to anyone else. Thus Paul Clarke (Stephen Dillane), the sleazy head of petrochemical giant Petrofex, waltzed right into Westminster to deliver a plot-rich piece of information to the PM, who himself took impromptu meetings in all sorts of places: other people's private jets, the morgue, even on a pair of chairs placed in front of Number 10. Campaigning journo Ellis Kane (Gina McKee, pictured above right) seemed to be able to walk in on Dawkins without so much as a knock on the door. “Well, fuck you, Tom Dawkins,” she screamed helpfully at one point when he denied her corroboration of a story. “You’re not the only one trying to find their way in the world.” “I’m the fucking Prime Minister,” he riposted. Rather too often in Secret State, people needed to be reminded of this fact. But then perhaps this was the ultimate message: no matter who the incumbent, the wheels within wheels have precious little respect for the office. “You get to the top,” concluded Dawkins, “and you realise it’s really only the middle.”

Even while paring itself to the bone, Secret State somehow allowed itself to be wasteful. In the end, the much dangled plotline about Dawkins’s dodgy record in Bosnia eventually went for nothing, while his ex-wife (Sophie Ward) did not reappear after the first episode. There was a puzzling moment in which, for no apparent reason, Dawkins’s PPS admitted to have an affair with Ros Yelland, Sylvestre Le Touzel’s warmongering Foreign Secretary.

Le Touzel, scorning the peacenik diplomatic argot of  “violins and camomile tea”, was like all good baddies great value throughout. Nicholas Farrell’s smooth string-pulling top military brass was also excellent company. Everyone played their part to put flesh on the bones on Robert Jones's neurotically jumpy script - from Ruth Negga’s rogue operative (pictured) in GCHQ to Anton Lesser’s deliciously reptilian banker. People said “fucking” a lot, apart from the PM’s glowering bodyguard, but then he didn’t say much at all until in a thrilling scene he had to pull a gun on some heavies from MI6.

For all its breathless convolutions, Secret State delivered its homily about the murky web of interests protecting their stake in UK plc with clarity of purpose. In the end, the rousing climax was pure blue-sky fantasy: that a serving Prime Minister would step up to the dispatch box and, like a turkey putting an X against 25 December in the polling booth, propose a motion of no confidence in his own rotten government is regrettably not the way things are done, as the resumption of the status quo swiftly confirmed. But it was cheering to hear someone in high office give cronyism a bloody nose, even if this was no more than a fictional manifesto from the dreaming leftiverse.

Hey, at least we can safely conclude that Secret State is for the most part alarmist nonsense. Where else but in a sensationalist thriller thick with implausibilities would a PM and leading journalist be on cosy first-name terms and freely horse-trading information by mobile telephone?

It was cheering to hear someone in high office give vested interests a bloody nose, even if this was no more than a fictional manifesto from the dreaming leftiverse

Share this article


Would a prime minister who had been a captain in the army really allow his chief whip to misuse "in the firing line" when he meant "in the line of fire"

Just how was this meant to be based on "A Very British Coup"? Other than being set in British politics there seemed to be no similarities whatever. But then again, it was such a rushed production I probably missed a lot of key points trying to work out who was trying to do what to who and why.... Still not very clear on that. Definitely NOT one for the archives.

I thoroughly enjoyed Secret State, In my opinion you had to 'read between the lines' of the plot, and put it into context. The cosying up with the press is believeable, you only have to have listened to the leveson enquiry to know that the press - have been too close to the avenues of power for too long. The PM (Gabriel Byrne) was a brilliant choice. 'A Very British Coup' was written some time ago, but, the insight that the author had is perhaps a 'premonition' of what was to come in real life.

terrific next series please

Can someone please explain the ending? Dis Tom Dawkins remain P.M.? Didn't quite "get" the conclusion!

With the fired General walking back into the MOD and the picture of Dawkins hanging on the stairs at No 10, I suspect not.

What was the conclusion. Did Tom Dawkins win or the bad guys.  

sdonag — oh for god's sake.

Is this a case of the emperors new clothes ? I was totally confused by the ending and until I read the first comment above thought that it was the penultimate episode rather than the final one. Maybe it's me being thick and it's obvious to everyone else. If so please put me out of my misery.

I totally agree. I have spent a lot of time checking if there actually was another episode. Sad really as it was shaping up to be something different.

Have been searching the listings for further episodes. Can't believe that was the end. Left so many questions unanswered.

Great show.... Totally ruined by the conclusion or rather the lack of it... Did they run out of money?

It ended with the sound of ship based cruise missile launches.

What the hell!...that's all? Ridiculous....

Did we really need the "f" word so much. It is sad when one cannot watch a reasonably good drama without such purile language. Grow up and raise your standards. They have slipped dramatically.

I think it is you who must grow up and face reality! The 'f' word is freely used in business, politics, and everywhere. It's use actually added to the reality.

Perhaps years from now we'll learn the true story of how the world got bamboozled into wars that clearly were based on lies and that clearly profited the establishment depicted in Secret State...made me angry at Bush Blair et al all over again

Whilst the story was rather over-compressed I really enjoyed the build up to the anticipated climax but what a bloody awful ending! At first I thought we were being dragged in to a US style 'hook em in and don't let go' scenario ( à la Lost etc) but now I find that there is no second series and whilst I hate the US format at least I could watch the beginning of series 2 to find the conclusion of series one and then abandon (as I did with Lost). A stellar cast and very promising UK drama series has just ended up in abject disappointment for me. Shame on you Channel Four and particularly Robert Jones, what a waste of my time.

Great show - good story - can't believe that was all. Well cast, brilliantly directed and.totally believable. Makes you wonder whose best interests are best being served.when decisiona are made at the top. Your show really spelled that out to the fat cats who believe they control the outcome. Bravo!

The ending is fully justified - it shows that heroes do not always win. The government ministers, the opposition, the civil servants and other interested powers (banks etc) all seek self interest and stop at nothing to achieve it - even war. This is the crux of the story.

Great series albeit too short. If the purpose was to show that gov ministers, banks, civil servants and large conglomerates will stop at nothing to cover their tracks and pursue self interest then it's the public that is f.....! We are just helpless bystanderss which is a pretty worrying thought! Thankfully, it is fictional rather reality, or so I hope!

The "truth is often stranger than fiction". I think audiences need to be told when a film is "based on a true story"...or we wouldn't believe it.

For me this was a pretty poor series, I think lots of the storyplots were like short puffs of air, no follow up and went nowhere. Good actors I expected much more dialogue and less swearing. The ending was terrible. Mind you after the second one it didn't seem worth watching but I persevered and it was a waste of time.

Loved it, loved the actors, loved the storyline, loved that it ended without dragging on to another and another and another series. I loved the ending, it summed it all up with the sound of the cruise missile. What more could be said. This has just finished airing on ABC Australia. Once again British drama/thrillers make tv viewing something to look forward too. Well done !!!

I enjoyed it. Would we had current politicians in the UK with oratorical skills and charisma. I had to come on here for confirmation he was out at the end. Well worth watching.

Those in the know, know this has far more truth than fiction. Those who do not know, see a fantastic, unrealistic, improbable, inaccurate story for the doomsday sayers. Of course we can trust all of our elected officials, right? Of course they are all honorable, honest and upstanding working for the good of the people, not themselves. Right? This is one of the rare movies that should be shown to every high school student as yet one more example of just how crooked at the top it not only can be, but it.

This was an incredibly mini-series. Actually wish for more; however, I assume from the shocking ending that PM did not remain as in the end all the corrupt people were returning to their old jobs, a great show until the end, such a disappointment.

I was looking forward to this mini series, after the disappointment of the Agatha Christie debacle. But that ending was not made clear to me, maybe I am too thick headed! Not happy!!!

I didn’t understand the ending either. Lol.

Terrible Ending! Tried everywhere to actually find out If did end in war in Iran. Suppose it did as could hear missiles ???

Enjoyable machvellian series well cast and like others am waiting for series two when elections are called because of a what should have been a no confidence vote. Realistic and timely how in the series with the all information provided power of civil service and immoral leaders prevailed rather than a new government elected with a majority of the House calling for elections not war!

Maybe Series Two is needed like elections are now happening  July 2024!

Add comment

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 15,000 pieces, we're asking for £5 per month or £40 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take a subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters