Even women of a certain age can spot a good actor when they see one
Of course Gabriel Byrne is just a stud muffin for us ladies to lust after between hoiking up our support tights and lathering on the wrinkle cream – or so Leo Varadker suggested this week – but actually even, ahem, women of a certain age can spot that he is a rather fine actor.
In Secret State (Channel 4, Wednesday), this week’s big new drama series – a four-part political thriller inspired by Chris Mullin’s A Very British Coup – he’s Tom Dawkins, a decent, thoughtful, moral deputy prime minister who is thrust into number 10 when the prime minister’s plane is apparently lost over the Atlantic. There has been a devastating explosion at a US-owned refinery in northern England – there’s lot of CGI in Secret State – and, as Dawkins takes the helm, conspiracy theories grow as evidence multiplies of big business controlling government.
A journalist with an inside source (Gina McKee) tips Dawkins off that the oil company knew the risks – texting him “whose plane” – and her character pops up at random intervals with clunky plot exposition. She’s not the only one. Dawkins’s ex-wife appears, out of the blue, to “remember what happened in Bosnia”, which was annoying and puzzling at the time but, presumably, will make sense next week.
And just as you’re wondering why the journalist with the juicy source doesn’t just write the story instead of giving all her best info to Dawkins, you start noticing all the other things that don’t quite make sense, not least the surveillance. In a heavy-handed nod to Spooks, and to lay on the thriller aspect, Dawkins and his confidant, a boozed-up former intelligence officer, are under secret surveillance.
Obviously, having been glued to Homeland, I’m an expert on covert surveillance, but I can’t figure out how the spook at GCHQ (Ruth Negga) is getting all those recordings of their every conversation – even when Dawkins is out jogging, for heaven’s sake – when there are no wires or microphones anywhere.
It’s Byrne’s first starring role in a British TV drama, and he’s convincingly British and prime ministerial, although he does rather a lot of moody staring off into space when you’d rather there was action or even dialogue. But he does superbly convey the character of an idealist coming face to face with a powerful political and business nexus. Worth watching for the super cast and the sheer glossiness of it all – if you can get by the clunky scripted signposts to what happens next.
Dara Ó Briain has become one of the go-to guys for making science accessible on TV, and in his new show, Dara Ó Briain’s Science Club (BBC Two, Tuesday), the comedian is hosting another chatty, entertaining series, this time filmed in a warehouse in front of a young audience and with cool-looking boffins taking an aspect of science to go at from various angles.
The opener looked at genetics and hereditariness. “The most important event in human evolution was the invention of the bicycle,” said the renowned geneticist Prof Steven Jones, explaining that people no longer had to have sex with the someone from their own village: they could go farther afield. Planes, trains and cars further helped spread our genes around – a good thing, he said, as genetic diversity is the raw material of evolution.
In a report by Ó Briain’s sidekick, his fellow comedian Ed Byrne, we learned that at one point, after Homo sapiens emerged from Africa but before they ran the Neanderthal out of Europe, a bit of interspecies mating went on. Both Byrne and Ó Brian gamely had their genes tested to see if there was a trace of Neanderthal lurking in there, and it revealed levels in the two Irishmen’s genetic make-up that they may not be bragging about, Ó Briain at 3 per cent and Byrne at 3.2 per cent.