Rules of the Game review: Maxine Peake and Rakhee Thakrar shine in Me Too thriller
The four-part BBC thriller is bolstered by its stellar cast and thought-provoking storylines.
It's been five years since the #MeToo movement became a cause marched for across the world, with all kinds of workplaces facing a reckoning when it came to sexual abuse and misconduct – and now the BBC is finally delving into the topic with its new drama Rules of the Game.
The four-parter, written by journalist Ruth Fowler, revolves around Manchester-based sportswear company Fly Dynamic – a family-run business hoping to become publicly-traded – and its Chief Operating Officer Sam, a formidable figure within the business played by Anne's Maxine Peake.
Rules of the Game's first episode begins with Sam arriving at Fly Dynamic to find a dead body in the foyer before she's interrogated by suspicious detective inspector Eve Preston (Susan Wokoma). As Sam reflects back on her time at the company and the events leading up to this tragedy, we're taken back to several months before, when new HR Director Maya Benshaw (played by Sex Education's Rakhee Thakrar) arrives and begins digging into Fly Dynamic's history of misconduct.
What follows is a gripping look at a small business with a past (and present) steeped in inappropriate behaviour, multiple cover-ups and mysterious deaths, while we learn more about the victims – which include unsurprisingly volatile employee Tess Jones (Callie Cooke) – who continue to process the repeated abuse and their ignored pleas for help from over the years.
Shameless and Silk star Peake – who is dominating the January TV schedule with her roles in this and ITV's Anne – is perfect as the ruthless Sam, whose willingness to play along with the toxic, boys' club atmosphere cultivated by Fly Dynamic's bosses Gareth (Kieran Bew) and Owen Jenkins (Ben Batt) is only properly challenged when Maya joins the company.
While Peake portrays the executive with a hard-edged tenacity, with her ambition to be a corporate success at any cost front and centre, her performance also features hints of vulnerability as Sam tries to deal with her crumbling home and romantic life and slowly realises that she may also be a victim as well as an enabler of sexual abuse in the workplace.
Acting opposite Peake throughout the series is Rakhee Thakrar, who shines as new HR director Maya. Clashing with Sam as soon as she steps through the doors of Fly Dynamic, Maya is constantly challenging Sam and the higher-ups on how they've dealt with instances of extreme unprofessionalism in the run-up to making the company's initial public offering.
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While Maya's suggestions of pyjama Friday and her regular practice of meditation is initially disarming, she proves to be a worthy opponent to the icy Sam as she begins looking into the shady death of a 16-year-old employee a decade prior and the company's pay cheques to its previous HR Director, who reveals he was labelled "the Harvey Weinstein of Fly Dynamic".
At times, the expository dialogue can feel somewhat heavy-handed – (in one scene, Tess, who is reluctant to go into work, is told by her grandmother: "If you can shag, you can work") – while there are a few plot points that are hard to accept, such as Sam making her young daughter do work experience at Fly Dynamic despite knowing about her bosses' predatory natures. However, the drama as a whole is a thought-provoking thriller, bolstered by its stellar cast and a murder-mystery plot that'll have you binge-watching all four episodes.
Rules of the Game begins airing on BBC One at 9pm on Tuesday 11th January, with all episodes available on BBC iPlayer thereafter.