By Will Barber Taylor
Britain, 1990. The country is run by the bureaucrats of the Home Office’s all-powerful Public Control Department (PCD). Hundreds of thousands of civil servants work hard at monitoring and exposing all possible and imaginary threats to the country. They routinely command sophisticated surveillance of anyone suspected of opposing the status quo; ruthless suppression of independent thought in Special State brainwashing units cunningly disguised as caring rest-homes; and strict rationing of food, alcohol, and travel. Free speech is forbidden. The rule of law no longer protects the vulnerable. Civil liberties are consigned to history as the Orwellian bureaucrats tyrannically impose their intimidating control.
Jim Kyle (Edward Woodward), journalist for The Star, resists the forces of the Establishment. He’s smart, witty and charming. But his subversive acts aren’t going unnoticed, and he risks prison or death at the hands of the PCD’s ruthless controller Herbert Skardon, (Robert Lang), and his provocatively alluring deputy, Delly Lomas (Barbara Kellerman).
Set against the backdrop of a gritty Orwellian landscape, 1990 Series 2 returns with as much bitter energy as the first series. Whilst Jim Kyle is not the same man he was at the end of the first series, his determination to face justice and subvert Britain’s totalitarian regime is as powerful as ever. As strong as ever is the series charm, wit and intelligence. It continues to be one the 70s best satires, satirising the beginning of government monitoring on a large scale as well as satirising the 70s crusading journalists and supplanting them in an era in which they must follow the line of the government or else.
Edward Woodward’s central performance is the linchpin which keeps the second series, as it did with the first series, a performance which is both invigorating as it is reflective. Kyle is a man desperate for change, change that can transform his country from a politically barren wasteland into a free democracy again. Kyle has succeeded in bringing down the reign of Home Secretary which adds a triumphalist approach to his performance. Woodward, though he has experienced much, gives Kyle a swagger lacking in part of the second series. Whilst this might be less than endearing in another context, here it seems appropriate because of the troubles Kyle has suffered. The psychological aspect of Kyle’s reaction to his grim surroundings are further developed in this series and help us to respect Kyle more – he is made more real by the injection of hubris.
In conclusion, the second series of 1990 advances on the first by developing Woodward’s character and showing us the darker side of society that did not fully explore in the first series. Whilst some aspects have not aged well – the use of surveillance seems too “disco 70s” to be applicable to the distorted 1990s. However, it was still an enjoyable conclusion to a visionary satire of what life could have been had society gone wrong.
With thanks to Simply Media. You can now buy 1990 Series 2 from all good retailers.