Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

TELEVISION REVIEW

Aren't nerves jangled enough?

October 04, 2008|Robert Lloyd | Times Television Critic

I was driving around Europe earlier this year in a van equipped with a GPS system that would beep whenever we approached a surveillance camera. In England it beeped, like, all the time. There are around 5 million CCTV cameras in the U.K., more than 10,000 of them in London alone.

Welcome to the Allen Funt society, whose motto might be "Smile! . . . if you know what's good for you." Such is the setting for "The Last Enemy," a sprawling, five-part conspiracy thriller set in a near-future Britain, where a terrorist attack has opened the door to officially invaded privacy and black-clad, armed and helmeted police jog in formation through the streets. Written by Peter Berry ("Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness") and premiering Sunday on "Masterpiece: Contemporary," it's a portrait of a perversely paternalistic culture in which counterterrorism and commercial interests go hand in hand and the individual has become something to be simultaneously coddled and exploited.

Into this brave new world, Stephen Ezard (Benedict Cumberbatch) returns for the funeral of his brother Michael, a much-loved -- though not by Stephen -- aid worker and crusader for social justice, presumed to have been killed by a land mine. (When Michael turns up alive, he's played by handsome Max Beesley.) Stephen, by contrast, is a germ-phobic genius mathematician who has spent four years in China, apparently in order not to have to talk to anyone. Through the machinations of a former girlfriend and cabinet minister (Eva Birthistle), he's drafted to lend intellectual credibility to a data-coordinating supercomputer in which British viewers will have seen sinister echoes of their country's real-life National DNA Database and proposed (and opposed) National Identity Register.

Stephen is an interesting choice for a hero -- a fundamentally weak, self-centered man who pushes himself into action not to survive or settle a score, but because he's fallen in love with his brother's widow, Yasim (Anamaria Marinca). Yasim, for her part, is investigating the mysterious deaths of a group of Afghan refugees. This will all tie up, naturally.

Much information is held back on purpose and doled out in bits, although some threads just seem to have gotten lost. It's hard to keep track of exactly what's going on, and who is friend and who is foe. (The great Robert Carlyle, as a former spook, is the hardest to pin down.) There are assassins on the loose, but they're not all sure who they're working for, and I never was either.

But because the material is so deftly executed, that incoherence just makes the atmosphere all the more threatening. While I appreciate the critique of the post-privacy world -- it's not as if we're not living there, as well, in the Land of the Free -- on a practical level "The Last Enemy" is just a device to turn a person into a quivering mass of nerves, and it succeeds at that very well. Relentlessly downbeat, the film invests no energy in humor or feel-good triumphs to relieve the tension. I would have preferred a different ending, from a crass entertainment standpoint, but it's the honest ending for the 5 1/2 hours that preceded it.

--

robert.lloyd@latimes.com

--

'Masterpiece Contemporary: The Last Enemy'

Where: KCET

When: 9 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-PG-V (may be unsuitable for young children, with an advisory for violence)

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|