State of Play (TV serial)

State of Play (TV serial)

infobox television
show_name = State of Play
caption =
format = Thriller
runtime = 57 minutes per episode
creator = Paul Abbott
starring = David Morrissey
John Simm
Kelly Macdonald
Polly Walker
Bill Nighy
Philip Glenister
James McAvoy
country = UK
network = BBC One
director = David Yates
first_aired = 18 May 2003
last_aired = 22 June 2003
num_episodes = 6
_imdb_id = 0362192

"State of Play" is a British television drama serial, first broadcast on BBC One in 2003. Produced in-house by the BBC, in association with independent production company Endor Productions, it was created and written by Paul Abbott, directed by David Yates and starred David Morrissey, John Simm, Kelly Macdonald, Polly Walker, Bill Nighy, and James McAvoy. It tells the story of a newspaper's investigation into the death of a young woman, and centres around the relationship between the leading journalist and his old friend, the woman's employer.


The serial begins with the murder of a young man, apparently a drugs killing, and the apparently coincidental death of Sonia Baker, the young researcher for Member of Parliament Stephen Collins (Morrissey). As the deaths are investigated by journalist Cal McAffrey of "The Herald" (Simm) and his colleagues (including Kelly Macdonald as Della Smith and Bill Nighy as editor Cameron Foster) it appears that not only were the deaths connected, but that a conspiracy links them with oil industry-backed corruption of high-ranking British government ministers.


The serial was Paul Abbott's first attempt to write a political thriller, and he initially made the majority of the plot up as he went along. He was prompted to write the serial after BBC Head of Drama Jane Tranter asked whether he would rather write something "bigger" than he had usually written so far in his career.ref|1 The serial was Abbott's third major writing project for the BBC, following "Clocking Off" (2000-2003) and "Linda Green" (2001-2002).

Transmitted on BBC One on Sunday evenings at 9pm, "State of Play" consisted of six one-hour episodes and ran from 18 May to 22 June 2003. Episodes two to five were actually premiered on the digital television station BBC Four at 10pm on the nights of the preceding episodes' BBC One showings – episode six was held back for a BBC One premiere so as not to allow the final twists to be spoiled for those who did not have access to digital television. In 2004, the serial ran in the United States on the BBC's BBC America cable channel.

In 2005 the serial was released on DVD by BBC Worldwide, in a two-disc set. Episode one features an audio commentary from Abbott and Yates, and episode six a commentary from Yates, producer Hilary Bevan-Jones and editor Mark Day.

The success of the production led to Abbott being commissioned to write a sequel, which as of January 2006 was partly [ written] – it was commissioned before the first had even been transmitted, so impressed were BBC executives with the original.McLean, Gareth. [,7493,958933,00.html "TV review: The genuine article"] . "The Guardian". Monday 19 May 2003.] However, by 2006 the second series appeared to have officially been abandoned. Abbott, talking to Mark Lawson on BBC Radio 4's "Front Row" in November 2006, said that he couldn't find a way to make the story work. However, on 25 April 2007, Abbott was quoted in the [,,2001320029-2007190108,00.html "Sun" newspaper] as saying that he was currently writing scripts for a second, six-episode series of "State of Play", with John Simm and Bill Nighy reprising their roles.

Critical reception

Reviewing the first episode for "The Guardian" newspaper the day after it had aired, Gareth McLean wrote that "'s bloody magic. The story is gripping, the acting is ace and Paul Abbott's script is outstanding. His ear for dialogue, and for different voices, is exceptional. The exposition is swift, nifty and joyously unclunky. The characters are credible and rounded. If you can count the best dramas of recent years on the fingers of both hands, it's time to grow a new finger."

Other newspaper critics were similarly impressed with the opening instalment. In "The Times", Paul Hoggart wrote that "Two excellent performances [from Morrissey and Simm] ensure that the relationship has a turbulent dynamism that is credible and engaging." [ [,11131,959093,00.html "First Night" newspaper television review round-up, Monday May 19 2003] . Retrieved on 21 September 2005.] James Walton in "The Daily Telegraph" was more cautious, feeling that the opening episode had been promising but the serial as a whole still had the potential to go wrong. "At this stage however, the programme is certainly good enough to make me hope not and to ensure that I'll be back next week to find out." ["Ibid".]

The consensus appeared to be that the serial did maintain its quality to the end. Previewing episode four, Jonathan Wright of "The Guide" section in "The Guardian" described it as "A political conspiracy thriller that's as buttock-clenchingly tense as "Edge of Darkness", as cynical about the British political system as "House of Cards", and stands comparisons to both." [Wright, Jonathan. "Watch This: State of Play, 9pm, BBC1". "The Guardian" ("The Guide" section). Saturday 7 June 2003.] The television critic of "The Independent", Thomas Sutcliffe, wrote of the final episode: "I'm not sure that a thriller can end in anything other than anti- climax. If it has been good you're sad it's over, and if it ends badly you're quite likely to feel that you've been duped. Paul Abbott's "State of Play", which has had me swallowing double doses on a Sunday evening whenever the schedules allowed, left us with the first kind of let-down rather than the second." [Sutcliffe, Thomas. "The Weekend's Television: The sticky end of the thriller". "The Independent". Monday 23 June 2003.]

Bill Nighy won the British Academy Television Award for Best Actor for his role. The series also won BAFTAs for Best Sound (Fiction/Entertainment) and Best Editing (Fiction/Entertainment). It was nominated, but did not win, in the Best Actor category again, for Morrissey; in the Best Drama Serial category; Best Original Television Music and Best Photography and Lighting. It also won major awards from the Royal Television Society, Banff Television Festival, Broadcasting Press Guild, Cologne Conference, Directors Guild of Great Britain, Edgar Awards, and the Monte Carlo TV Festival. [ [ Internet Movie Database awards page for "State of Play"] . Retrieved on September 21 2005.]

Film adaptation

"State of Play" is being adapted into a feature film, scheduled for release in 2009. The plot will be similar to that of the original six-hour programme, retaining the main characters, but condensing and changing certain aspects in order to fit the two-hour format and changing the location to the United States.

The adaptation is directed by Kevin Macdonald and is written by Matthew Michael Carnahan. Ben Affleck, Russell Crowe and Helen Mirren will appear in the lead roles.


* Abbott, Paul. "The South Bank Show – Paul Abbott". ITV. Sunday 15 May 2005.

External links

* [ "State of Play"] at the Internet Movie Database.
* [ "State of Play"] at
*Screenonline TV title|id=1049820|name=State of Play

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