“It’s not a question of how it is, it’s a question of how it appears”
Salting the Battlefield is the third and concluding part of the Johnny Worricker trilogy, following on from Page Eight and Turks and Caicos, and sees David Hare wrap up the dramas that he both wrote and directed. Worricker is an ex-MI5 analyst who is on the run from the British authorities after exposing a couple of massive secrets that threaten PM Alec Beasley, a marvelously slimy Ralph Fiennes. From the Caribbean he’s ended up in Germany with former lover and current conspirator Margot but the net is drawing ever closer for an endgame to settle all scores.
It’s grand to see original players from Page Eight returning. Saskia Reeves’ ambitious Deputy Prime Minister still precarious as ever in her position but finding opportunity in the chaos of her personal and professional life; Judy Davis’ plain-speaking MI5 head still bemoaning the old boys’ club of an institution she appears to have firmly by the balls; and Felicity Jones as Worricker’s under-used daughter. And as stakes are raised in order for scores are settled, there’s a fantastic amount of Machiavellian manipulation by all parties, chillingly conversational confrontation the order of the day here.
Which means it does get rather talky (one can definitely see these dramas as plays) and the viewpoint of an external director might have addressed that a little. Real joy comes from the quality of the supporting cast. The office of The Independent is run by Olivia Williams’ bold editor-in-chief Belinda Kay with the marvellous Pip Carter as a journalist, MI5 has Leanne Best working for them, the PM has James McArdle as his PPS, and naturally the friendly priest who Worricker turns to in a crisis is Malcolm Sinclair.
Nighy is excellent in a role designed for his world-weary but wickedly cool persona, still not quite the hero even as he tries to resolve things, and this film also finds Bonham Carter in the rich vein of form that is seeing some brilliant work from her (cf Suffragette). An ambitious trilogy that is a shiny, if not quite essential, showcase for the BBC which could equally be used, not without some justification, as a stick to beat it for profligacy.