After viewing an excellent Press presented by Masterpiece Theater, it begs the question. Was it non-renewed because its message hit too close to home? Press certainly reminds you of the disc jockey Gary Burbank quip “our right to know supersedes your right to exist.” The dialogue snappy and biting, the acting superb, The Post vs The Herald is a six-part cynical look into the world of journalism. Clearly touching a nerve, The Guardian writes its picture of the industry is “twenty years out-of-date.” Is that because the portrayal should actually be worse in 2020?
The Herald is that stodgy, old liberal paper on its death throes, but proclaiming to have ethical standards. The Post proudly acknowledges that it entertains and therefore has the ability to effect change in public policy. Sensationalism just helps it lose less money than The Herald. Each paper despises the other; both think they have the moral high ground. Press is not like Spotlight nor The Post which focus on chasing down one story. Actually, it’s more like The West Wing focusing on personalities, and the competition of ideas and ideals. I give Press 4.5 Gavels and it receives a 95% Rotten Tomatoes rating with a 7.5/10 IMDb score.
News editor of The Herald, Holly Evans, hates the “death knock,” the knock on the victim’s family’s door to get a quote. To the contrary, master-manipulator editor, Duncan Allen of The Post, demands it. The Herald refuses to pay witnesses for a story, the Post has no such qualms. Both blame their jobs for their miserable private lives. But, are you hypocritical if you destroy another person’s life when you suffer the same fallibility? Or, are you just doing your job?
After a turn in Peaky Blinders, Charlotte Riley, as Holly Evans, struggles to be the conscience of The Herald. Self-absorbed, Post editor Duncan Allen, played by Ben Chaplin (Wipers Times), remembers his days as a reporter, but pressure from his CEO always hangs over his head. For fans of Grantchester, Al Weaver has a nice role as a principled reporter. I hesitate to leave anyone out because this is truly a fine ensemble cast.
As the protagonists approach mutual-self destruction, an earlier quote is enlightening. “You want full disclosure until it’s about you. Yes, it’s a contradiction.” How do you disclose an illegal, surreptitious recording? “Leak it to a foreign source, and then print their reporting of it.” When Holly and Duncan meet to “threaten” each other, they do so in a church. Why? Because Holly is certain they will find no reporters in one.
The Atlantic notes “as a primer on the nefarious influence of British tabloid journalism, Press is entertaining. As a drama with A Point, it can veer toward cliché… But there’s something deeply satisfying in seeing how differently the sausage gets made.”
Even better, New Statesman declares “my God, Chaplin’s performance is brilliant: Shakespearean, you might say. Even as his character repulses, he attracts, which is just as it should be.”
Oliver Twist famously said, “please, sir, I want some more.” In this case, the failure of BBC One to so provide is a blow to the viewer’s head.