What to say if you liked it
An incandescent lighthouse beam of truth shone brightly into the very beings of the numerous nefarious smugglers trying to beach their cargos of deceitful contraband on to the pliant shores of public perception over Iraq, from odious BBC journalists to megalomaniacal government press officers.
What to say if you didn’t like it
A doctor’s waiting room jigsaw puzzle of a drama which had so many pieces missing the overall picture was utterly fragmented and partial.
What was good about it?
• Mark Rylance’s excellent performance as Dr David Kelly, in which he sharply captured the tremulous anxiety and enduring frown he wore even when smiling, but also fleshed him out as the determined detective hunting down the WMD stockpiles in Iraq with the fervour of Inspector Morse.
• The inter-cutting of the drama with real news reports covering the Iraq war and subsequent inquiry. They benefited hugely from the attention to detail such as re-shooting the Channel 4 News titles to include the actors playing the roles of Andrew Gilligan and Alastair Campbell.
• Some insight was provided into why Dr Kelly leaked what he saw as lies to the press – because of his Baha’i faith he felt obligated to tell the truth.
• Jonathan Cake as the marauding Alastair Campbell, who aims to warp all hints of Iraqi WMDs into harbingers of the next apocalypse.
• The shuddering barbarity Dr Kelly suffers at the hands of the Foreign Affairs Committee as he disintegrates under their relentless and acidic interrogation as though he is a shy pupil in a room of bellowing cane-brandishing headmasters.
• The portrayal of Tony Blair as the infertile, inert figurehead Prime Minister happy to idly strum his guitar at home while power behind the throne Alastair Campbell runs the country.
• The inclusion of the findings of Lord Hutton in the closing credits to cunningly ensure the imaginary scenes in the script weren’t the most fantastical elements of the drama.
• Little effort was made to discern the reason for Dr Kelly’s suicide, and while this diminished its impact, it did afford the late scientist some dignity; a dignity welcomed because of the affection for Mark Rylance’s sympathetic depiction had garnered him.
What was bad about it?
• The actor who played stern intelligence chief John Scarlett was the bloke who is always typecast in political dramas playing the stern intelligence chief.
• The fictional melodramatic inserts into the drama which dimmed the perceived veracity of the whole piece, such as when Dr Kelly pleads with his friend in the Iraqi weapons programme. “All we want, Haseem, is the truth,” “The truth Dr Kelly will kill you.” And when Dr Kelly reduces “Dr Germ”, the head of the Iraqi weapons research, to tears after he communicates to her the disappointment of her mentor, a scientist at the University of East Anglia.
• The piecemeal nature of the script that gaily flitted between Dr Kelly’s visits to Iraq in 1991 and 1998 and the unfolding tragedy in 2003, which in turn alternated between Dr Kelly, the BBC and the government only converging when Dr Kelly gave evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee.
• The cruel characterisation of Andrew Gilligan who is seen altering his notes from the interview with Dr Kelly (which he denies), being tardy and incompetent and always stuffing his face with slices of cake or chocolate biscuits like a grown-up Billy Bunter. Still, at least he was given a full head of hair.
• The fictional bias of the story sterilises any comment made about the internal machinations of the BBC, the government, intelligence service and Dr Kelly’s domestic life and, as such, reduces much of the play to wan conjecture.
• Because Dr Kelly’s resolute perspective carries the narrative single-handedly from his dogged pursuit of WMDs in Iraq to his pious disclosure of his dossier doubts to Gilligan and other journalists, his hasty crumbling into a possibly lethal depression appeared unrealistic and a dilution of his former deeds.