Home Written work Undeclared War review – Enid Blyton could have written this cybersecurity drama | Television

Undeclared War review – Enid Blyton could have written this cybersecurity drama | Television


Be careful what you wish for is the constant message of the first episode of Channel 4’s new drama The Undeclared War.

Be careful what you wish for if you’re Saara Parvin (Hannah Khalique-Brown, doing a great job in her first big TV role), a super-bright graduate who begins her experience working alongside the even brighter computer analysts. from GCHQ on the same day (in 2024), the country is hit by a cyber-attack from an as yet unidentified source. “55% of the internet is down,” says boss Danny (Simon Pegg, in a kind of undrawn version of his role in Mission Impossible). It appears to have targeted non-essential online services and is considered: “intelligently targeted for maximum disruption and minimum risk to life”. Saara, however, proves to be brighter than all of them and finds a second virus hidden inside the first that would have taken care of the remaining 45% and brought the country to its knees. She can attend a Cobra meeting – which seems unlikely, but no more unlikely than our own Prime Minister doesn’t show up to most of his people during a pandemic – but fails to make it to the hospital to see her father before he died after an apparent suicide attempt.

And you should be careful what you wish for if, like me, you were hoping The Undeclared War would provide the perfect dose of quality hokum and real-world escapism as it crashes and burns around us. A cyber attack? How funny! It’s not even on the list of anxieties I’m going through these days. In fact, if that 55% included the transmission of daily headlines from around the world, I would be delighted. “Bring temporary respite from the burden of dreadful knowledge!” I would cry.

Alas, the undeclared war has gone the other way and is clearly designed to drag us all into a new field of concern. Created by multi-award winning Peter Kosminsky (who helmed the brilliant Wolf Hall) after three years of research into modern intelligence and cybersecurity, the six-part series carries that research strongly and takes itself very seriously.

Too serious… Adrian Lester in Undeclared War. Photo: Channel 4

It moves at a glacial pace and GCHQ staff look like reluctant office workers on data entry shifts, tapping boredly on their keyboards until it’s time to go. ‘a statutory tea break – rather than people frantically trying to fend off an enemy onslaught that could kill thousands and takes the nation back to the middle ages, or at least the 1990s. Although I’m sure it’s much more realistic than the bullet-sweating heroes Hollywood gives us (although would there really be such audible moans from professional codebreakers when the boss tells them they have to go back on the code malicious?), ‘t provide much dramatic tension.

Kosminsky’s involvement likely explains the appearance of heavyweights like Adrian Lester (Prime Minister Andrew Makinde, who apparently ousted Boris 15 months ago), Alex Jennings (Head of GCHQ, David Neal) and – yet to come in later episodes – Mark Rylance (John Yeabsley, a former GCHQ asset brought back to help them deal with the attack). At the moment – and only one episode was available for review – they don’t have much to do. The focus on young Saara’s discovery of the second virus banishes them away in much the same way the adults were peripheral to an Enid Blyton adventure. It also recalls the gentle mockery of its facilities by children’s librarian Eileen Colwell – “But what hope has a band of desperate men against four children?” The storyline is also Blytonesque. People say “We’re in!” a lot, or “We’re offline!” or “It’s 70% reverse-engineered”, without too much in between.

For now, The Undeclared War feels like it aimed high and missed. But with five episodes to come, Kosminsky at the helm, and a distinguished cast who you’d think read it all before signing on, hopefully the drama and insight will pile up. Maybe we’ll occasionally leave the static framework of GCHQ and find out what life is like for people without 55% of the internet? Otherwise, it’ll feel like a rich wasted premise and we’ll be left hoping for a remake that leans into its potential as a nice contribution to the nonsensical shiny tech genre – something we could all do in this trying time. .