TV Review: The Undeclared War

Intense and measured, The Undeclared War is a cerebral and chilling near-future TV drama

“An attack within an attack within an attack”

Peter Kosminsky’s 2022 Channel 4 drama The Undeclared War is very much a slow-burner, to the extent that you could argue it never really fully ignites. I was quite a fan of its smouldering intensity but with several reviews only having the first episode to go on, the measured pace turned a fair few off.

Set in an all-too-convincing near-future Britain, Saara Parvin has a dream of a first day at her one year student-placement at GCHQ as her atypical lateral thinking allows her to help foil a cyber attack on the internet in the UK that was baffling everyone she’s ostensibly meant to be learning from. It hardly helps her to make friends though and as more layers to this online onslought are revealed, she finds herself increasingly isolated both at work and at home.

You can tell that Kosminsky has researched this super-hard as each episode is densely packed with detail, so much so in some cases that it can fly over your head (the world of coding remains a mystery to me!). But with the likes of Simon Pegg and Alex Jennings heading up GCHQ, you feel in quality safe hands, plus there’s a government with Hattie Morahan (Foreign Secretary) and Adrian Lester (Prime Minister) so all is good as geopolitical tensions ratchet up.

The home front is slightly less assured as Hannah Khalique-Brown’s Saara has to negotiate the consequences of not telling her Muslim family where she’s working, even when tragedy strikes. And a painfully forced work liaison disrupts her home life with boyfriend James (an under-used Edward Holcroft) in an unnecessary diversion that adds little. I’m also not 100% how successfully the parallel story strand with Saara’s former student colleague Vadim pays off as we follow his life in Russia – it’s not quite equal enough to hit home in the way it is clearly intended to do and so lacks impact.

That said, The Undeclared War is entirely watchable – less a thriller than a puzzler, one to think about rather than go ‘ooh’ at, and so ideal for these ever-darkening nights.

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