TV Review: Press (BBC1)

Mike Bartlett’s Press has a fantastic company and big ambitions but is probably best enjoyed as feisty entertainment than an accurate portrayal of the world of journalism

“We do it through the most outrageous storytelling in the world, not statistics”

A lot of the chat around Mike Bartlett’s new series Press, as written by journalists at least, was around how the show fails to represent life at a contemporary newspaper in an accurate manner. So I hasten to remind us all, as if it were really necessary, that Press is a drama and not a documentary, and that dramatic license and a real, and frankly essential, thing.

Soapbox done, this six parter is an interesting if simplistic look at duelling newsroom as it follows the teams at Sun-a-like The Post and Guardian-a-like The Herald as they follow stories, set the news agenda and battle for the very soul of journalism. It’s all highly watchable in a popcorn-munching kind of way but – perhaps ironically given my first paragraph – the shadow of the real world occasionally looms a little too large. 

The broad strokes of Press are tabloid = bad / broadsheet = good and there’s something inevitable about Bartlett’s focus falling more on the ‘bad’ side, evil is usually more interesting. So Ben Chaplin’s Duncan is The Post’s deeply amoral editor and cub reporter Ed is his fresh-faced protegee who tumbles quickly down the rabbit hole in pursuit of front pages. His rapid adoption of that amorality will give you whiplash but Paapa Essiedu’s performance is compelling.  

And over at the Guar…Herald, the excellent Priyanga Burford’s Amina is the editor dealing with the terminal decline in people willing to pay for hard news and Charlotte Riley’s Holly is her restless deputy who doggedly chases down those very stories that some would deem worthy. Bartlett packs in an awful lot over these episodes – press integrity and regulation, proprietor interference and those falling sales numbers. But for all the hot-button topics included, there’s a curious lack of exploration of how the explosion in online access hhas reshaped the world of news.

As you’d expect from a Bartlett drama on the Beeb, there’s a stonkingly good company. Al Weaver and Shane Zaza are both brilliant in their opposing newsroom, Dominic Rowan and Elliot Levey both simmer beautifully as their respective agents of darkness, and David Suchet’s not-at-all-based-on-Rupert-Murdoch George Emmerson is great fun. Press would probably like you to take it a bit more seriously but it’s best enjoyed as feisty entertainment.

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