Blackcurrant Raid And Back Into The Archives

As is fairly common, I’m going to open with a complaint. Just over three weeks ago, I was giddy at the status of my blackcurrant bushes, full of ripening currants of quite impressive sizes. After getting back to the US, I was planning on taking the time this holiday weekend to pick my bounty.

Imagine my surprise when I went out Saturday evening to find both bushes stripped bare. Damn those squirrels. Damn their eyes. And their oh-so-cheeky bushy tails. I will have my vengeance!

Anyway, I am back in the US after a somewhat empty flight back on a 787 Dreamliner. And of course, a flight means watching old TV programmes! This time around, I watched The Consultant and finally got to see the ‘complete’ cycle of The Donati Conspiracy and State of Emergency.

The Consultant is a bit of an oddity, in that I can’t understand why it hasn’t been released on DVD and only seems to exist as a bunch of off-airs taped off the original broadcast (complete with BBC Wales idents, no less!). The only reason I ended up downloading it was because, well, everybody loves Hywel Bennett, and early 1980s dramas about computer fraud often have a certain charm. But when I was taking a look at the opening credits, I saw that it was written by Alan Plater, and then I downloaded everything.

It’s definitely not his greatest work, but the central mystery and scheme holds up pretty well, and although it’s an adaptation, there’s flashes of the sparkling dialogue that would be the highlight of The Beiderbecke Affair. Plus a fun Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy gag in the first episode. Definitely worth a watch, and could do with being rescued from the archives.

I’ve seen The Donati Conspiracy a couple of times before, and to me it’s still the best example of the 1970s ‘conspiracy drama’ period of British television. But I knew there was a sequel series filmed two years later, State of Emergency which was almost impossible to search for and didn’t really seem available anywhere online. Until it turned up on YouTube late last year. Hurrah! Sadly, it doesn’t quite live up to what came before, and the recasting of two of the main roles is a big part of that. Michael Gwynn actually does well replacing Michael Aldridge as Donati, leaning heavily on ‘British professor contrasts torture camps with public schooling’, but the series loses a lot without Anthony Valentine’s pitch-perfect charming and arrogant performance of a fascist. The man was sadly born to play slightly-posh Nazis. Patrick Mower tries his best, bless him, but you never really feel that he could have got to that position of power that he finds himself in at the start of the series.

Also, I can’t help feeling that John Gould’s death before the screenplay was completed meant that the final effort (supposedly finished by Hugh Whitemore) is much less subtle than The Donati Conspiracy. The previous series left a lot to the imagination, whereas the sequel spells out in detail how the national government was formed as a reaction against trade unionists, with the army in a supporting role. Definitely keeping with the ‘tanks on the runway at Heathrow’ and ‘UKDK’ real stories of the 1970s, but suffers a lot in comparison to the original series’ more measured take on things.

(Donati has a wonderful straight performance by Windsor Davies, of all people, and the lack of ‘normal’ characters in Emergency hurts it a lot)

I’d definitely recommend watching The Donati Conspiracy if you haven’t done so already. And honestly, I think you can stop there - the ending of that is perfect and doesn’t really need the denouement that State of Emergency provides.

Other than that, back on this side of the Atlantic and trying to readjust. At least the cicadas are gone…