Press, Mike Bartlett’s BBC1 drama about modern British newspapers, ended in a flurry of activity on Thursday night – and a bit of a dramatic whimper.
Once again, there was no doubting the sincerity of the project, which examined life at two fictional dailies. It’s just that the strangely off-the-mark depiction of the 21st-century media industry inevitably made the drama suffer.
In the finale we had a few more clichés of newspaperland – clandestine meetings in pubs, even a set-to on actual Fleet Street, despite the fact that it has been denuded of most newspapers for more than 30 years.
The Resonance plot reached its climax, with The Herald getting the MI5 whistleblower to go on the record about the secret surveillance the organisation had been doing on the British public.
Would Post editor Duncan (Ben Chaplin) do his master Emmerson’s (David Suchet’s) bidding and stop The Herald running the story? Would Holly (Charlotte Riley) see it through? And what about her planned takedown of Duncan?
Duncan certainly started the series finale in the mire: his personal life was in the doldrums, his wife’s new billionaire husband was manoeuvring to stop him seeing his teenage son, and Emmerson was threatening to sack him.
But in the end he clawed his way back, scuppering The Herald by putting Holly on The Post's front page and calling her 'The Enemy of the People' for undermining the security services with the Resonance story. It was enough to get a promotion – and to win Emmerson’s financial backing in order to fight for his son.
It wasn’t quite clear why Emmerson was so happy when Duncan failed in his primary mission of blocking the story. The Herald, it seemed, ran the investigation. The Post merely ran a smokescreen, attacking Holly for pursing Resonance. But there you are…
However, everything is still set up for a second series should the BBC want one. What will Duncan do with his new job of overall editorial supremo? Will Holly get her own back on Duncan? And will Duncan see his son?
Ed Washburn, the young Post reporter with a penchant for rifling through people’s handbags, also looks like a possible new recruit for The Herald following his resignation from The Post, if they can forgive him his naughty ways.
That said, it's not at all clear whether this story has legs.
The BBC says that there is “no news” on a possible second series – and no news isn't exactly good news when a show comes to the end of its run.
Press had the architecture of good drama and some brilliant performances (especially from Chaplin). But whoever the newspaper people were who advised Bartlett didn’t do their job properly.
Ultimately the drama overstated the importance of the print news media in the digital age, as if a front page on dead trees carried the same importance as it did 25 years ago.
Perhaps the BBC should turn its money towards a drama about the sultans of Silicon Valley? Something about the people who really control the news these days...
This article was originally published on 11 October 2018