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"Secret State" DVD Review

Secret State DVD cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Secret State (2012)
Series & DVD Details

Director: Ed Fraiman / Writers: Robert Jones (teleplay), Chris Mullin (novel A Very British Coup)

Producer: Johann Knobel / Executive Producers: George Faber, Charles Pattinson, Jason Newmark, Ed Fraiman

Starring Cast: Gabriel Byrne (Tom Dawkins), Charles Dance (John Hodder), Stephen Dillane (Paul J. Clark), Nicholas Farrell (General Munnery), Michael Gould (William Hawley), Rupert Graves (Felix Durrell), Douglas Hodge (Anthony Fossett), Ralph Ineson (Sgt. Wrigglesworth), Sylvestra Le Touzel (Ros Yelland), Anton Lesser (Sir Michael Rix), Anna Madeley (Gina Hayes), Gina McKee (Ellis Kane), Ruth Negga (Agnes Evans), Jamie Sives (Lee Fouldes), Al Weaver (Joss Leyton), Lia Williams (Laura Duchenne)

Notable Guest Stars: Tobias Menzies (Charles Flyte), Jason Done (Dr. Mark Ashcroft), Chris Mullin (Vicar), Sophie Ward (Rosie Miller), Kriss Dosanjh (Jitin Mukerjee), Nicholas Woodeson (Lord Justice Holbeck), Kika Markham (Carol Molloy), Julian Firth (Piers Jupp), Russell Kilmister (Nills Jacobson), Martin Chamberlain (Speaker of the House of Commons)

Running Time: 179 Minutes (4 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired; Extras Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99 / DVD Release Date: July 29, 2014
Two single-sided, single-layered discs (DVD-5s) / Black Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover

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Gabriel Byrne's film career flourished in the 1990s, with prominent roles in American dramas like Miller's Crossing, The Usual Suspects, and Little Women. The Dublin-born actor's Hollywood clout diminished some at the turn of the millennium with a string of critically maligned and/or commercially unsuccessful fare like Stigmata,
End of Days, and Ghost Ship. Byrne has enjoyed a slight resurgence in recent years from television. The HBO therapy drama "In Treatment" earned him a Golden Globe award and two Emmy nominations. Following three seasons of that, Byrne accepted the lead role of "Secret State", a four-episode 2012 UK political thriller series.

"Secret State" stars Byrne as Tom Dawkins, who opens the series as the UK's Deputy Prime Minister. He's put on the spot regarding big oil company PetroFex's possibly preventable refinery explosion in Scarrow that kills 19 and injures 94. An imminent second tragedy sees his Prime Minister presumed dead when he goes missing on a PetroFex plane after a meeting with the corporation's Houston-based brass. Dawkins is assured he'll keep his post should foreign secretary Ros Yelland (Sylvestra Le Touzel) become the logical new Prime Minister. Another potential PM from the party, home secretary Felix Durrell (Rupert Graves) promises Dawkins Ros' foreign secretary post. But told the people want the stability that he alone can give them, Dawkins surprises both would-be candidates by deciding to stand in the fast-approaching election.

Tom Dawkins (Gabriel Byrne) unifies the United Kingdom during a time of crisis, prompting his promotion to Prime Minister in "Secret State."

Narrowly defeating the opposition, Dawkins finds himself dealing with two big scandals in the refinery explosion and the prime minister's mysterious plane crash. To them, he adds a third when he gives British military the go-ahead to take out a high-ranking Al Qaeda terrorist,

who it's later learned may have been on the Iranian side of the Iran-Afghanistan border. As a result, Iran considers the strike an act of war.

This being the 21st century, Dawkins finds himself subject to enemies and questionable tools. His friend, alcoholic former MI5 agent Tony Fossett (Douglas Hodge), is among those being monitored with keyword-triggered phone surveillance. Another freelance journalist under wiretap, Ellis Kane (Gina McKee), is digging into Dawkins' past, paying special notice to his military record as a lieutenant during the Bosnian War.

Channel 4's second adaptation of Chris Mullin's 1982 novel A Very British Coup (the first, which kept the book's title, aired in 1988), "Secret State" is very driven by plot. Dawkins fears conspiracy and our three hours spent here largely confirm those fears. Though the text that "inspired" it came thirty years earlier, "Secret State" is timely and current. There is talk of tweets, journalists are cutthroat, texts are sent, privacy is invaded, and Dawkins' course of action is compared to George W. Bush's response to September 11th.

The series is all business; aside from one brief sighting of Dawkins' ex-wife, we don't get any sense of his or any other characters' personal lives. Though sharply written and well-acted, the series' grip on your attention is likely to be tenuous, especially if like me you are outside of the UK and not particularly interested in politics.

A year and a half after airing in the UK and eight months after reaching America through DirecTV, Acorn Media and RLJ Entertainment bring the entire four-episode series to DVD in Region 1 in this two-disc set available next Tuesday.

Agnes Evans (Ruth Negga) has guilt about the questionable private wiretapping she performs on citizens. Alcoholic journalist Tony Fossett (Douglas Hodge) picked the wrong day to stop drinking.

Disc 1

1. Episode 1 (43:20) (Originally aired November 7, 2012)
In the wake of two tragedies, Tom Dawkins establishes himself as a leader and is encouraged by the Chief Whip (Charles Dance) to run for the newly-vacant position of prime minister.

2. Episode 2 (43:19) (Originally aired November 14, 2012)
Narrowly victorious in the election, Dawkins puts some heat on intriguing pathology reports as part of the crash investigation that is increasingly looking like an act of terror. He gives PetroFex a deadline to respond to his questions.

Disc 2

3. Episode 3 (46:58) (Originally aired November 21, 2012)
Iran accuses the UK of an act of war. Dawkins meets with the head of Royal Caledonian Bank (Anton Lesser). Fossett grows paranoid and tries sobriety. Ellis meets with PetroFex CEO Paul Clark (Stephen Dillane).

4. Episode 4 (45:51) (Originally aired November 28, 2012)
As war with Iran looms, the former prime minister's death remains a mystery Tom is determined to solve, even if it means calling for a vote of no confidence against his government.

Deputy Prime Minister Tom Dawkins (Gabriel Byrne) visits the site of an oil refinery explosion in Scarrow. PetroFex CEO Paul J. Clark (Stephen Dillane) is dodgy regarding compensation for victims of the explosion.


Given the breathing room of two single-layered discs, "Secret State" looks pretty good here. While the DVD's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation doesn't boast the detail of Blu-ray, it's solid for standard definition and suffers from no specific problems. Sound is offered in plain Dolby 2.0 stereo rather than 5.1 surround, but it too is fine. The accents (including Byrne's passable British one) are occasionally thick enough to make consulting the clean yellow English SDH subtitles useful. There's a lot of profanity for television at large, but not that much compared to certain foul-mouthed premium cable fare.

"Secret State" apparently carried a working title of "Coup" as the slate in this behind-the-scenes short shows. On the Downing Street set, author and former MP Chris Mullin discusses Channel 4's two adaptations of his novel.


"Secret State" is joined by four short behind-the-scenes featurettes, all of them on Disc 2.
They're of a similar nature, offering comments from cast and crew on the sets. "House of Commons" (3:11), "Biggin Hill Airfield" (3:15), and "Downing Street" (2:45) take note of the locations and their authenticity. "Chris Mullin Interview" (5:12) lets us hear not only from the author and former Parliament member (not to be mistaken for the NBA Dream Teamer and Hall of Famer of the same name) on this second adaptation but also the actors proud to be a part of it.

Disc One opens with Acorn's general two-minute promo and ads for the first series of "Line of Duty" and "Jack Irish."

The static main menus resemble the cover art are fitted with score. Typical for an Acorn DVD, each episode is given a synopsis and graphic scene selection menu.

An insert promoting Acorn's subscription streaming service and social network pages accompany the two silver discs in a slipcovered standard black keepcase with swinging tray.

The short 2012 series "Secret State" concludes with Prime Minister Tom Dawkins (Gabriel Byrne) encouraging a vote of no confidence in his government.


"Secret State" is a pretty decent political drama. This short British series doesn't resolve itself, nor does it seem to have any chance of being continued in the future. But it offers three hours of competent television, perhaps of greatest interest to those intrigued by politics or this seasoned cast.

Acorn's DVD provides a fine feature presentation and an okay 15 minutes of bonus material. I can't imagine this will qualify as regular viewing for many, but it's as good a way as any for those in the US to see the series once.

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Reviewed July 24, 2014.

Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2012 Company Pictures, All3Media Company, Newscope Films for Channel 4,
2014 RLJ Entertainment and Acorn Media.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.