Blightyvision: “Hidden”

Written by Ronan Bennett and Walter Bernstein
Directed by Niall MacCormick
Starring Philip Glenister, Thekla Reuten, and Anna Chancellor

There are some shows you can watch casually.  There are some shows you can half-watch.  There are some shows you can keep an eye on while you fly from Stormwind to the Arathi Highlands.  And then you get shows like “Hidden,” where if you look away even for a second you will miss pretty much everything.  Currently being knee-deep in the friendly fluff that is the new series of “Merlin,” I’ve been used to casual watching of late.  But when “Hidden” finally rolled around, I had to readjust and get myself back at least peripherally into “Life on Mars” viewing mode.  And I’m not just saying that based on the cast.

Initially titled “Undisclosed,” “Hidden” is a post-“Mars”/”Ashes” solo vehicle for Philip Glenister (who recently tore it up good in “Mad Dogs” and will be appearing in a second series of the same).  He plays Harry Venn, a small-time solicitor with a shady past and a not so squeaky-clean present.  The job he takes on as the show opens involves tracking down a witness for lawyer Gina Hawkes (Reuten).  In exchange, she offers him £20,000 and — more intriguingly — information about Harry’s dead brother Mark.

From there, “Hidden” moves along multiple tracks.  At the forefront is Harry’s search for Gina’s witness, but behind the obvious job is a far more tangled web.  He’s also trying to find out more about Gina herself, while dealing with accusations of crimes committed 20 years before.  Then there’s Gina’s own side investigations, Harry’s dealings with one Sir Nigel Fountain (David Suchet, best known as TV’s Poirot) and his connection to Gina, and a large side helping of political intrigue as a group of political activists (headed up by “MI-5″‘s Anna Chancellor as Elspeth Verney) try to bring down the Prime Minister.  And underneath it all is the Help Desk, a mysterious organization whose motives and methods creep slowly into the spotlight as the series progresses.

I had to watch this show through twice.  At a short run of four one-hour episodes, and headed up by one of my favorite actors, this was not exactly a chore.  But it was a very, very tangled story.  Could it have been more straightforward?  Possibly, but a lot of the show’s atmosphere comes from that massive tangle.  The various branches of the plot do occasionally feel as though they’re paced a bit oddly against each other, and names are thrown at you at a number and frequency one generally doesn’t expect of a show this short.  The second viewing allowed me to take more in and follow things a bit more closely.  Anyone who’s read at least a few of my reviews knows I have a weakness for mind-bending shows, but there’s a difference between watching a show multiple times to get more out of it and watching it multiple times to get anything out of it.

What makes up for that?  The performances, for sure.  I’m not familiar with Reuten’s other work, but I very much want to be.  And Suchet, though getting less screen time than suited me, was as excellent as always, especially coming in on the big reveals of the final episode.

Most notably, though, “Hidden” seems to have done its job admirably as a vehicle for Glenister, and it avoided a major possible pitfall: Harry Venn was never written as Not Gene Hunt.  Nothing about the writing or the performance seemed motivated by a fear that comparisons would be drawn.  Yes, a few news mags did use that as a selling point — “If you thought Gene was tough, wait ’til you see how Harry gets a prisoner to talk!”  But it was a great chance to see Glenister get to do something a little less “genre”-y, and a nice reminder that he can do a bang-up job at mainstream drama as well.

I honestly couldn’t tell you if a second series would be possible, feasible, or advisable.  Should you watch, you’ll see what I mean when you get to the end.  Granted, when a show interests one more with respect to the cast than the writing, it gets a bit hard to decide if you feel like there’s more to tell or not.  Did I like the writing?  Sure.  Did I like the show overall?  Yeah.  Would I have watched it if a different actor were in the lead?… likely not.  The cast was the stand-out element, and I can’t help but feel the draw wouldn’t quite have been there with different casting.  If you’re a fan of Glenister or just want to see him in a different role, then yes, give “Hidden” a go.  But in and of itself, I can’t see anything that puts it head-and-shoulders above the rest of its genre.

If nothing else, “Hidden” is also one of those great occasional reminders of just how much language and nudity one can get away with on British TV post-watershed. (Answer: a whole lot.)

Posted on November 3, 2011 at 01:00 by Kara Dennison · Permalink
In: Columns, Television: British and Canadian · Tagged with: , , ,