Blackout – Episode 1
Christopher Eccleston gets down and dirty.
UK air date: Mondays, 2nd - Monday 16th July, BBC One, 9pm
I once saw Christopher Eccleston doing a Q and A at the National Film Theatre after a screening of Our Friends in the North, the BBC series that brought him to prominence. Part way through his interview, he pointed at the screen behind him and said, "That's what TV should be for – not f***ing Spooks." That was a bit of a shame, as I like Spooks, and I didn't entirely agree with him, as there are far, far worse examples of modern TV to pick on. What it tells you about Mr Eccleston, though, is that he is a man who has very high artistic standards and still considers television to be an important part of British cultural life.
By that criteria, his latest series, Blackout, could have been written for him, and I'd be surprised if it wasn't. He plays Daniel Demoyes, a morally corrupt councillor in a Northern city (where else?), drowning himself in booze, drugs and prostitutes, a death trip funded by pay offs from a local businessman for confidential council information. As Demoyes slips further down the slope of addiction, his wife (Dervla Kirwan) is on the verge of leaving him, until he has a chance at redemption after jumping in front of a bullet intended for the star witness in a trial. Demoyes' unexpected selfless act inspires the inhabitants of his city to the point where he's touted as a new broom, prospective mayoral candidate, a position he eventually accepts. The only trouble is, he may have beaten his paymaster into a fatal coma.
In a way, it's a shame that Eccleston will always be associated with this kind of 'issue' drama, but his belief in and commitment to it burns from the screen. And, before I get completely carried away, his angular face is perfectly suited to the murky, immoral world director Tom Green has skillfully crafted. True, the mise en scene is a bit over done; it always seems to be raining and the middle of the night even when it's day time, and in a few places its so dark it's hard to tell what's going on. But like The Killing, from which Blackout borrows at least some of its visual style, this series shows more than ever that 'TV drama' is now really cinema for the small screen. Green's accomplished, serial film noir is a long way from the flatly lit, video recorded theatre chopped up by 35mm film sequences that used to constitute dramas made for television.
What's great about Blackout is that for all the clever lighting and camera angles, the performances are to the fore – Ewen Bremner, for instance, is particularly impressive as cynical political agent, Jerry Durrans, who still has a spark of idealism. And, in a week where one of the biggest banks in the world has been revealed as guilty of sharp practice, Blackout asks what it will take to galvanise an electorate completely jaded by the corruption and incompetence present in the institutions of 2012 British life. Demoyes is the walking symbol of this disillusionment, and his chance to turn his life around is gripping stuff, lingering in the mind long after the first episode had finished. He's also one of several characters that has something to hide, and part of Blackout's theme appears to be that however well intentioned someone is, is it really possible to escape the mistakes of the past.
Hmm. Maybe Mr Eccleston was right about Spooks after all.
Click here for the trailer:
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