One thing the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) does better than any North American network is create intelligent, well-paced, and interesting mini-series. One of the best in recent memory, 2003's State of Play, has just been released on DVD by BBC Warner. Had it been stretched to 24 or 26 episodes, as it surely would have been had it originated on a North American network, it would have inevitably bogged down or spun off into absurdity. However, at a mere six episodes, State of Play is perfectly-paced, fresh and exciting television that doesn't overstay its welcome.
State of Play principally concerns a newspaper's investigation into the death of Sonia Baker, a staff researcher for Stephen Collins (David Morrissey), a member of Parliament chairing a committee considering additional regulation of multinational oil companies doing business in Great Britain. What might have been dismissed as an ordinary accident or perhaps suicide, takes on deeper implications when anonymous faxes to Stephen's wife, Anne (Polly Walker), and the press, romantically link Stephen and Sonia. When Sonia's death is subsequently linked to the murder of a petty thief, the story rushes forward in a series of twists and turns that continue right up through the series finale.
Although London homicide detectives are prominently involved, and there is the occasional gun-play, State of Play is not a cop drama. It's old-fashioned investigative journalism by a London newspaper, The Herald, that drives the investigation of Sonia's death, Stephen's involvement with Sonia, and the consequences thereof. State of Play showcases investigative journalism which balances stunning revelations with thorough fact checking, corroboration, and advice of legal counsel, resulting in a whole which is both exciting and plausible.
State of Play is written by veteran television writer Paul Abbott who continued to refine the story as it went into production going so far as to write in a major reveal in episode six while episode three was shooting. It is directed by David Yates (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) who relied on a variety of shooting styles and editing choices to individually shape the look and feel of each scene. Finally, casting director Wendy Brazington deserves mention for putting together a perfect ensemble cast: from the lowliest secretary to the lead reports, every actor nails his or her character. Though everyone does well, actors John Simm, Kelly MacDonald, and Bill Nighly deserve special mention for turning in truly top-level performances.
Sadly for the state of the real world, the least believable element of State of Play is the notion that a daily newspaper could devote the level of time and resources necessary to get to the truths revealed in this series. While it's unlikely that a corporate newspaper could ever really do this anymore, if it could be done, here's how.
The six episodes of State of Play, totaling approximately 350 minutes, are spread across two duel-layered DVD-9 discs. Forced trailers on each disc can only be skipped through repeatedly selecting the next chapter command.
State of Play is presented anamorphically with an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The poor PAL to NTSC port of this British series is the one glaring problem with an otherwise generally good looking image. The result, when viewed using a progressive scan player, is a high degree of blur in scenes that include a lot of movement. This poor porting of the original PAL image is endemic to BBC Warner discs generally so viewers that haven't minded this on other BBC Warner releases will not mind it here either. Those that do mind though and are able to play Region 2 discs, may well prefer to seek out British release of State of Play to avoid this problem.
This release features a fairly good 2.0 stereo mix with good separation between channels, steady audio levels, and no noticeable dropouts or distortion.
The only extras other than the forced trailers for other DVDs are commentary tracks on episodes one and six. The commentary on episode one is with writer Paul Abbott and director David Yates, while the commentary on episode six is Yates, along with producer Hillary Bevan Jones, and editor Mark Day. The commentaries are mostly congratulatory chit-chat that trails off into long periods of silence as the commentators become engrossed in watching the episodes.
State of Play is a finely-crafted, if idealized, story of investigative journalism that is intelligently written, well-directed, and brilliantly acted. It's no wonder that this series has won numerous awards in Britain and abroad, and that a big-budget American theatrical remake staring Russell Crowe and Ben Afflack is currently in production. Though this release, like most every BBC Warner DVD, suffers from a poor PAL to NTSC port, State of Play is highly recommended.