ACTION TV ONLINE EPISODE GUIDE
Synopsis : Journalist Cal McCaffrey is sent to investigate the suspicious death of Sonia Baker, political aide and lover of married MP Stephen Collins. McCaffrey is uncomfortable pursuing what he considers to be a domestic scandal involving his old friend Collins until he learns of a link between Baker's death and that of a murdered teenager.
Publicity : Whenever someone is needed to play a troubled soul, a jittery anti-hero or a generally moody so-and-so, John Simm always seems to spring to mind. He's played fish-out-of-water gambler Danny in The Lakes, a loathsome loan shark in Tony Marchant's Never Never and most, overwrought and tormented of all, Raskolnikov in BBC2's Crime and Punishment. However, while Simm does bring an edgy quality to the character of journalist Cal in State of Play, the role is a slight departure for him. "He's a bit more normal," he says, "and a professional, though he's a bit crumpled." The 31-year old was brought up near Burnley, and wanted to be a musician (an ambition he's realised with his band Magic Alex) rather than as an actor, but his chosen career has kept him busy. The longest he's been out of work is three months. Now a family man (he and his partner, actress Kate McGowan, have a 19-month old boy), Simm says fatherhood has changed his life, but he jokes he'll show his son the door if he doesn't support Man Uninted when he's older (Radio Times article by Jane Rackham, 18th May 2003).
Cast : Michael Rose (The Undertaker), Bill Horsley (Adams), Nicholas Selby (Commander Browne) and Willoughby Gray (Hopkins).
Notes : Episodes were transmitted at 9.00pm on Sunday evenings, with BBC4 running each subsequent episode at 10pm. David Yates also directed The Sins. Marc Warren is a regular member of the Spooks team, playing Danny Blue. As well as being in Big Train, Amelia Bullmore played Des Barnes wife Steph in Coronation Street in the early 1990s. Benedict Wong plays Errol in the Sean Lock sitcom 15 Storeys High. Rory McCann was a regular in sitcom The Book Group.
Synopsis : Della realises that her life in is danger. DCI Bell is fishing for information following DI Brown's murder can Della still trust Cal, her journalist colleague?
Publicity : We now know that the death of a young research assistant (who was having an affair with ambitious MP Stephen Collins) was definitely not an accident. And that there is a connection between her death and the cold-blooded murder of a young lad who had nicked a briefcase containing some startling evidence. A police officer guarding a witness has been shot dead, and now it seems that the life of reporter Della (Kelly Macdonald) is at risk. But although we and investigative journalist Cal McCaffrey (John Simm) suspect there's something going on in the corridors of power, we don't know yet what it is. And writer Paul Abbott obviously intends to keep us dangling. This is a slightly slower episode than last week's opener as it fleshes out the characters, particularly Collin's estranged wife Anne. The top scene belongs to Bill Nighy's newspaper editor when, through gritted teeth, he reveals his relationship to a young, freelance reporter. It will have you snorting in surprise. (Radio Times article by Jane Rackham, 25th May 2003).
Synopsis : Cal is released from jail by DCI Bell.
Publicity : The pace picks up again in the third episode of Paul Abbot's political thriller. I assume that Dominic Foy (played by Marc Warren) plays a pivotal role in the story, even though he disappeared last week, but I'm in the dark because at points I've suspected everyone from Stephen Collins (David Morrissey) and his wife Anne (Polly Walker) to Cal McCaffrey (John Simm) and newspaper secretary Liz (Rebekah Stanton). What is obvious is there's a high-level cover-up going on. In this episode we discover that the results of some vital lab reports have been altered and th e alleged hit man is assassinated before the police can question him. But who is trying to cover up what? And why? (Radio Times article by Jane Rackham, 1st June 2003).
Notes : Pui Fan Lee is also responsible for playing the little red Tellytubby Po! Sean Gilder is a regular in Hornblower, playing Boatswain's Mate Styles.
Synopsis : Stephen is disgusted over his wife's affair and tries to ruin Cal's reputation.
Publicity : Boy, the journalists on the ficticious Herald are slick. They appear to be running rings around both the police and the spin doctors in their investigations into government researcher Sonia Baker's death. In fact police activity is almost nonexistent in this episode of Paul Abbott's superior conspiracy thriller. But frankly the police are superfluous when Cal McCaffrey (John Simm) and his colleagues Della (Kelly Mcdonald) and Dan (James McAvoy) get going. Watch and marvel as they set up an ingenious sting involving Dominic Foy (Marc Warren). If we learn nothing else from this series, we should now know never to leave a reporter alone with confidential papers and a photocopier. As we suspected from last week's evidence, Dominic is deeply involved in the whole sordid business, and his relationship with Sonia was much closer than he had led us to believe. As the Herald team dig deeper, they discover that this is a much bigger story than they thought at first. Even MP Stephen Collins (David Morrissey) is beginning to realise he's in deep trouble. The only jarring note in the story concerns Cal's relationship with Collins's wife Anne. I can't quite believe that having experienced such a brutal form of coitus interruptus (in the shape of a gun being held at Cal's head mid-grunt), they'd be so eager to leap back into bed together again. (Radio Times article by Jane Rackham, 8th June 2003).
Notes : David Ryall has appeared in umpteen British television series, usually playing Doctors or Sirs.
Synopsis : Cal invites Stephen to listen to an interview with an increasingly paranoid Foy.
Publicity : The fan has been well and truly hit by something extremely unpleasant as the penultimate episode of Paul Abbot's compelling drama opens. We've now had it confirmed that government researcher Sonia Baker was planted in MP Stephen Collins's office although we don't yet know by whom or why and that she didn't commit suicide, but was murdered. The shifty Dominic Foy obviously knows something about what she was doing, although it seems likely he's just one of the minor players in what is "a very big story". In fact, the story's so big that charismatic Herald editor Cameron Foster has been told by his publisher to halt investigations, in case it "upsets the government". So just how far up the political ladder does the conspiracy go? State of Play is as good as many of the political thrillers that have gripped us in recent years. Sadly, State of Play hasn't had the ratings it deserves. Let's hope the TV bosses won't be put off, and Abbott will write more like this. (Radio Times article by Jane Rackham, 15th June 2003).
Synopsis : Stephen learns of the web of deception that resulted in Sonia being planted in his office and, with Cal, seeks to bring down George.
Publicity : Paul Abbot's enthralling thriller comes to an end tonight, although not before it gives viewers a thorough shaking-up. Among the shocks is a chance remark from one of the characters that turns everything on its head. At least it does unless you've been extremely clever and are one step ahead of Cal McCaffrey (John Simm) and his colleagues on the fictitious Herald newspaper. For the majority of us who have had our brains severely tested as this complex conspiracy has gradually unfolded over the weeks, it will come as a huge relief to hear this topnotch investigative journalist admit, "I don't understand!" as we hurtle towards the climax of the story. Fortunately for Cal and us all is eventually explained, so there's no danger of the series ending with viewers stammering, "But, who ? Why? How?" as the credits roll. It's been a heck of a ride these past six weeks, hasn't it? State of Play ahs been a seriously good drama: the acting of David Morrissey, John Simm and Bill Nighy in particular has been a joy to watch, the script fairly cracked and the story has been gripping, grown-up stuff. Best news of all, though, is that a spin-off series featuring Cal and his Herald chums investigating another murky story is being developed. Radio Times article by Jane Rackham, 22nd June 2003).
Notes : Michael Pennington played Moff Jerjerrod in Return of the Jedi. Shauna Macdonald is a regular as Sam Buxton in Spooks.
State of Play exploded onto television screens in a blaze of publicity in the spring of 2003 and quickly went on to gain both viewers and a superb critical reception. Writer Paul Abbott appeared to be flavour of the year in 2003, with Shamless and Alibi appearing on our screens as well as State of Play which quickly drew comparisons with other political intrigue dramas such as Edge of Darkness. Whereas Troy Kennedy Martin's 1985 series featured supernatural themes though, State of Play is anchored firmly in the realm of possibility. What happens in this series is very likely going on in the real world all of the time.
Set in the mysterious worlds of a newspaper newsroom, big business and the Palace of Westminster the series clearly benefited from the large amount of research that was undertaken by both Abbott and members of the production team prior to the series being made. Political columnist Simon Hoggart and the deputy editor of The Times Norman Lane provided the team with an invaluable insight into the mechanics of the press and government, as Abbott attempted to reveal the darker, shadier side of what is supposed to be public life. This research undoubtedly help State of Play become one of the most accurate portrayals yet seen on television of how these places operate.
Director David Yates assembled a team of top actors to fill the variety of roles written by Abbott, with star of The Lakes John Simm taking the pivotal role of Cal McCaffrey, the journalist who stumbles across the secret cover-ups and schemes that certain parties are perpetuating. Fresh from his role as the smarmy, corrupt ex MP Jeffrey Grainger in Auf Wiedershen Pet, Bill Nighy was on the other side of the coin here as newspaper editor Cameron Foster. Both this and Auf Wiedersehn seemed to make Nighy more popular and well-known than he had probably ever been before, with him seeming to appear in more films and television series as a result of his work in 2003. Kelly Macdonald, most famous for baring all in Trainspotting was chosen to take the part of Cal's assistant Della, while the key role of MP Stephen Foster was filled by David Morrissey. Morrissey quickly went on to play a real politician after State of Play, when he filled out to play Chancellor Gordon Brown opposite Michael Sheen's Tony Blair in The Deal. Marc Warren too went on to greater things soon after when he landed the role of Danny Blue in Hustle.
The series was trailed in the Radio Times with an interview with Paul Abbott who revealed his research before writing the series: "I spent quite a bit of time at the House of Commons and got a huge amount of help from the parliamentary correspondents. My two main informants were Simon Hoggart from The Guardian (and Radio 4's News Quiz) and Norman Lane, the deputy editor of The Times. They opened my eyes to what was going on not just in the debating chamber, but in the corridors and behind closed doors too. For example, I'd never really appreciated before what a three-line whip was. Having watched the Whips at work, I now know exactly what it is. Blackmail. If one whip tells you to do something you can safely take no notice. If two whips tell you, you can also take no notice. But ignore a three-line whip if you're and MP and your political career is dead. Or, to put it another way, the only acceptable excuse for ignoring it is being dead."
Ratings increased as the series went on, and such was the success of State of Play a sequel was announced almost as soon as the first run concluded: it is said to feature the Herald team investigating another scandalous case. However, a further series has yet to materialise as is a version made for the American market. The first season of the series was released on DVD during September 2004.
Text © Chris Orton, 2004.
The series was created and written by Paul Abbott. The series was produced by Hilary Bevan Jones. Executive Producers for the series were Laura Mackie, Gareth Neame and Paul Abbott. The director was David Yates.