Saturday, 29 October 2011

Philip Glenister and his smarphone both deserve BAFTAs for "Hidden"

The latest BBC thriller series, Hidden, ended this week – and I was extremely sorry to see it go, because it was tip-top: not quite up there with 2003’s superb State of Play, but head and shoulders above anything else this year (apart from  The Shadow Line, which was pretty good). 

I only realised half-way through last week’s instalment that it was to be the last - and felt genuinely disappointed: TV is dire at the moment. All four episodes of Hidden are still available on iPlayer – but I’m not sure for how long.

What was so good about it?

Well, I’m an absolute sucker for paranoid conspiracy stories where the hero has been targeted for death by a group of powerful conspirators – even better when he or she doesn’t have a clue who his enemies are or why they want him dead: not so much “whodunit” as “whytheydoingit”. And the more complex the plot, the better, as it means there’s a chance my wife won’t figure out what’s going on several episodes before I do (I’m always the last to get it).

The acting was top-notch – Philip Glenister was on cracking form as low-life solicitor, Harry Venn. The politicians – Prime Minister and chief rival - were believably young and shallow. The media stuff – the BBC, Sky News and what was probably meant to be the offices of The Times - was handled well: nothing is more annoying than TV drama getting the new media wrong.

The script managed a neat balancing act. It didn’t treat the audience as if we were nonagenarian A Touch of Frost fans for whom everything has to be spelled out   v  e  r  y     s   l    o    w   l   y  and LOUDLY! Nor did it have its characters talk in the sort of impenetrably cool thriller code that no one in real life ever uses – even when they’re trying to kill someone (The Shadow Line fell prey to this temptation). A sure sign of intelligent writing was the fact that members of London’s criminal fraternity didn’t speak and act as if they’d watched too many Ray Winstone movies. (The only real blemish was when the chief conspirator - a millionaire industrialist - having assured another conspirator that his trouble-making adopted daughter won’t come to any harm, turns to his enforcer and purrs “Kill her!”’ Pure Armstrong and Miller.)

But what was truly refreshing was the natural and believable way modern technology was used. I’m not talking about ridiculously cutting-edge Mission Impossible-style devices – just plain old smartphones and laptops.  The main characters spent practically the whole time on the blower (as people now tend to) and used smartphones as timely information sources – which is exactly what they’ve become. There was a scene where our hero (who, endearingly, spends the whole time driving around in a clapped-out Volvo rather than something more thrillery) phones a number to find out who it belongs to: he thinks he recognises the voice of the millionaire industrialist - and immediately uses Google to find a TV News interview snippet of the man to make absolutely sure. Nice touch. And when Harry Venn needs to get some background information on someone, he immediately looks them up on the web – as any of us would. (Compare this to, say, Midsomer Murders, where the internet is invariably treated as if was invented two weeks ago, and no one’s quite sure how it works.)

Of course, the whole of Hidden’s plot was a farrago of utter silliness. So what? It’s a conspiracy thriller – utter silliness is sort of the point. But, given the ludicrous nature of the basic premise, everyone behaves in a fairly logical fashion, and they exist in a world that’s recognisable as the one the rest of us inhabit.

I’ve been so rude about the BBC’s recent thriller output since starting this blog, it’s a relief to able to offer praise for once. There has to be a second series!

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