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State of Play (TV serial)

State of Play
State of Play DVD
Created by Paul Abbott
Directed by David Yates
Starring David Morrissey
John Simm
Kelly Macdonald
Polly Walker
Bill Nighy
James McAvoy
Marc Warren
Philip Glenister
Composer(s) Nicholas Hooper
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of episodes 6
Producer(s) Hilary Bevan Jones
Editor(s) Mark Day
Cinematography Chris Seager
Running time 57 minutes
Original channel BBC One
Original release 18 May 2003 (2003-05-18) – 22 June 2003 (2003-06-22)

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


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
  • Release 4
  • Reception 5
  • Sequel 6
  • Film adaptation 7
  • References 8
    • Television 8.1
  • External links 9


The serial begins with the murder of a young man, in what appears to be a drug-related killing, and the apparently coincidental death of Sonia Baker, the young researcher for MP Stephen Collins (Morrissey). As the deaths are investigated by journalist Cal McCaffrey 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.


Character TV series Movie
Cal McCaffrey John Simm Russell Crowe
Stephen Collins David Morrissey Ben Affleck
Della Smith Kelly Macdonald Rachel McAdams
Cameron Bill Nighy Helen Mirren
Dan Foster James McAvoy
Anne Collins Polly Walker Robin Wright
Det. Bell Philip Glenister Harry Lennix
Dominic Foy Marc Warren Jason Bateman
George Fergus James Laurenson Jeff Daniels
Pete Cheng Benedict Wong Josh Mostel
Helen Preger Amelia Bullmore
Greer Thornton Deborah Findlay Wendy Makkena
Stuart Brown Rory McCann (uncredited) Michael Jace
Andrew Michael Feast Brennan Brown

For the movie adaptation, certain names of characters were changed:

  • Della's surname was changed from "Smith" to "Frye".
  • Cameron's surname was changed from "Foster" to "Lynne".
  • Andrew's surname was changed from "Wilson" to "Pell".
  • Det. Bell's 1st name was changed from "William" to "Donald".


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. The serial was Abbott's third major writing project for the BBC, following Clocking Off (2000–2003) and Linda Green (2001–2002). State of Play was also a major turning point in David Yates' directorial career, as he began to direct various high-profile television projects.


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 premiere on BBC One 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.


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."[1]

Other newspaper critics were similarly impressed with the opening installment. 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."[2] 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."[3]

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."[4] The television critic of The Independent, Tom 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."[5]

Bill Nighy won the British Academy Television Award for Best Actor for his role. The series also won a Peabody Award in 2004[6] and 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.[7]


The success of the series and its favorable impression on BBC executives lead to Abbott being commissioned to write a sequel, before the first series had even been aired.[1][8]

In 2006, however, a second series appeared to have been abandoned, with Abbott telling Mark Lawson on BBC Radio 4's Front Row in November that he couldn't find a way to make the story work. In 2007, Abbott was quoted in The Sun 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.[9]

Film adaptation

State of Play was adapted into a feature film that was released in the United States in April 2009. The plot retained substantial similarities to the original six-hour series, retaining the main characters, but with its location changed to Washington, D.C., and with certain aspects condensed and changed in order to fit the two-hour format.

The film was directed by Billy Ray. Ben Affleck, Russell Crowe, Rachel McAdams and Helen Mirren appear in the lead roles. In an April 2009 interview to promote the film, Affleck, who plays Congressman Stephen Collins, said he drew on the experiences of Gary Condit, Eliot Spitzer, and John Edwards while preparing for the role.[10] The film was generally well received, but not as lauded as the series.


  1. ^ a b McLean, Gareth. TV review: The genuine article. "The Guardian". Monday 19 May 2003.
  2. ^ 19 May 2003 "First Night",, Retrieved on 21 September 2005
  3. ^ Ibid.
  4. ^ Wright, Jonathan. Watch This: State of Play, 9pm, BBC1. "The Guardian" ("The Guide" section). Saturday 7 June 2003.
  5. ^ Sutcliffe, Thomas. The Weekend's Television: The sticky end of the thriller. "The Independent". Monday 23 June 2003.
  6. ^ 64th Annual Peabody Awards, May 2005.
  7. ^ State of PlayInternet Movie Database awards page for . Retrieved on 21 September 2005.
  8. ^ Raphael, Amy. Not much cop at fame. "The Guardian". 4 January 2006.
  9. ^ It's the State of replay for Simm. "The Sun". 11 September 2007.
  10. ^ "Ben Affleck: State of Play".  


External links

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