In The Red is set in spring 1998 a year into a New Labour government, with the country feeling that nothing has in fact “got better” at all. When a serial killer targets a number of bank managers and financiers the nation responds with a curious mixture of mild outrage and quiet admiration.
George Cragge, a raddled BBC Radio crime reporter with a fondness for a drink and a healthy contempt for BBC management, joins the murder hunt after he begins to receive mysterious telephone calls from the killer…
In The Red is an immaculately constructed whodunit and an irreverent yet affectionate romp through the corridors of British power.
There have been few, really good political tv thrillers. Most, whether through a combination of writing or acting or whatever never quite live up to the mark. In the last few years there are only two good political thrillers I can think of. Paul Abbot’s excellent State of Play and In The Red. Both were written by writers who have a true talent for not only plot but character, drama and satire. Both also follow a murder story – in the case of State of Play it is the murder of Sonia Baker a researcher in the Environment Department. In The Red meanwhile, follows the murder of several bank managers at the hands of the so called “Bank Manager Murderer” and the resulting mess that it causes.
Adapted from Mark Tavener’s novel of the same name by the legendary Malcolm Bradbury, In The Red opens in a dramatic and fiery way with what appears to be the murder of a bank manager before zooming into the beautifully rendered opening; a pound coin spinning on its side before falling into a river of blood and being consumed by it. Immediately the audience is hooked. Bradbury was a master of his craft and this can be seen in his quick, intelligent and stylish dialogue. He quickly introduces our main characters without being at all clumsy and while still advancing the plot. Bradbury gives each character a unique and distinguished personality everyone from Mark Gatiss’s bumbling police officer to Rebecca Front as Beth has an interesting and engaging persona that makes you want to find out more about them and how they fit into the dark and subtle drama.
A nice linking device used by Bradbury is the show’s theme, Slinkyhead’s In The Red which nicely connects various threads of the drama together from Stephen Fry and John Bird’s deliciously Machiavellian BBC Producers to Richard Griffiths as the leader of the failing Reform Party (To add insult to injury, the Reform Party has more seats in the Parliament during the series than the Lib Dems have now). Sometimes only parts of the song are used to connect the varying strands together but it is just enough to weave everything together into a dramatic serial.
The cast of actors in the drama is a veritable Who’s Who of British acting talent. All three preforming members of The League of Gentlemen appear (with Steve Pemberton giving a particularly funny turn as a Reform Party candidate) alongside Warren Clarke as George Cragge; Alun Armstrong as DCI Jefferson; Rebecca Front as George’s manager Beth; Richard Griffiths as Geoffrey Crichton Potter, leader of the Reform Party; David Ryall as George’s friend as economic correspondent Max Parker; Sally Philips as Gemma White the “unconventional” newsreader; Siobhan Redmond as Ms Sin alongside Stephen Fry and John Bird as the Machiavellian controllers of BBC 2 and BBC 4; Rik Mayall as Dominic De’Ath government financer and Richard Wilson as Lord Tone.
Just to list part of the star studded cast takes an incredible amount of time but every single one of them gives their full A game in the drama. Gatiss, Shearsmith and Pemberton’s parts are only minor but still funny and memorable; Warren Clarke gives a fantastic turn as George Cragge. Cragge wobbles and slurs his words in a comedic manner but Clarke still maintains the gravities that you would expect of an actor of his calibre. Fry and Bird’s chemistry is wonderful with the rather naïve Bird not realizing that he is more of a pawn in Fry’s game to become Director General. Mayall’s B’stardian turn as De’Ath is suitably over the top. He oozes the type of born to rule villainy that you’d expect of De’Ath’s character and Mayall gives it all he has to bring a truly diabolical financier to the screen.
In The Red is an overlooked gem of a series. The fact it has only just been released on DVD is criminal; it is a fantastic example of British satire and British crime drama coming together and creating a brilliant, fast paced epic. I’d highly recommend buying it on DVD now not just least for Bradbury’s excellent writing and Marcus Mortimer’s nuanced directing but also for the star cast that makes In The Red so bloody brilliant.
With thanks to Simply Media. You can buy In The Red here.