19th June 2001
"Get it while it's hot!" With those words, (and two bars of plutonium in his hands) yankee actor Joe Don Baker became one of the immortals of British television in this series which set the tone for edgy, paranoiac television years before the X-Files.
In this dark mini-series, Baker played free-lance CIA operative Darius Jedberg whose cowboy swagger and country can-do attitude has guaranteed him a role in every new James Bond flick.
The real star and hero is late actor Bob Peck as Yorkshire policeman Ronny Craven whose understated yet wrenching performance of a man coming apart provides a more subtle energy than Baker’s over-the top performance (see the box – the still of Peck with a gun in one hand and a teddy-bear in the other sums it up).
When Craven’s radical-environmentalist daughter is brutally gunned down, Craven follows clues that lead him to suspect sinister nuclear-age industrialists. Seeking to uncover proof of a covert program to generate weapons-grade plutonium, and thinking that Craven’s daughter had been on the verge of uncovering the conspiracy when murdered, Jedburg hooks up with the british police officer who has slowly begun to disintegrate with grief. Prodded but also steered by Thatcher-government functionaries with their own agendas, Peck and Baker form an uneasy alliance on collision course with a nuclear-age vionary.
A superb work, with a pefectly edgy score by Eric Clapton. I first caught the series in the late 80’s on PBS while Thatcher was still in office, and environmentalism was still something only radical lefties worried about. There’s a pretty heavy allegory against nuclear energy – best typified by how Craven’s slow disintegration begins to mirror that of some raw and toxic isotope, radiating bits of itself away as it diminshes in halfs over a slow period of time.
But the story also excels because it rises above metaphors – the black flower that is meant to symbolize mother Earth’s revenge against the human infestation that has soiled the world isn’t a symbol at all, Jedberg says – he’s seen it in the killing fields of Afghanistan. Though the story is centered on Craven, the Yorkshire cop plays straightman to Jedberg’s fall guy, with the two trading words about the end of the world, the environment and the lyrics to Willie Nelson songs. I had to watch this on UHF with crummy reception (snow, doubled images and all) but you can catch it pristine. Get this tape.