Friday, October 25, 2013
'The Ambassador:' One of British Television's Best-Written Characters
The 6-disc 12-episode complete series DVD release of the 1998-1999 two-series (my people call them seasons) drama "The Ambassador" provides American audiences a good chance to discover yet another exceptional British program. This show is just as good as the recently reviewed "Kavanagh Q.C." from the same era. Both shows benefit greatly from the contributions of their common creator, Russell Lewis.
Lewis' numerous other credits include the well-known "Inspector Lewis" and the lesser-known but equally top-notch "The Last Detective."
"Kavanagh" and "Ambassador" share great actors, well-written stories, and ambiguous evidence of guilt, dirty politics, or other questionable acts that keep the audience guessing and intrigued through the final minutes of episodes. Common humor comes in the form of somewhat buffonish lanky and balding secondary characters.
Although not sharing any common characters or other lore, "Kavanagh" and "Ambassador" make the best matched set of shows since "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and its spin-off "Angel."
"Quartet's" Pauline Collins, who is best known for her role in the original "Upstairs Downstairs" and for playing Shirley Valentine, perfectly portrays titular diplomat Harriet Smith. The pilot episode has this career representative of Her Royal Majesty's government settling into her new role as the ambassador to Ireland.
The "troubles" between the U.K. and Ireland are an underlying theme in all these tales about Smith's awesome in every sense struggles to keep the peace, maintain international relations as friendly as possible, and still do what is right. She truly is the one with the tired eyes.
Smith's diplomatic baggage includes guilt regarding her late husband dying in an attack that was directed at her, dealing with the anger regarding that incident and the overall hostility of her 18-year-old son Nate, and trying to both be a good mother and alleviate the security-related anxieties of Nate's much more congenial 13-year-old brother Sam. Luckily for Sam (and Harriet), 20-something housekeeper Becky is an ideal surrogate daughter/big sister.
Ala "Kavanagh," Lewis and his writing staff give each "Ambassador" episode a title that has multiple meanings. The pilot episode titled "Innocent Passage" follows that pattern and also shares common elements with a "Kavanagh" episode.
The separate "Ambassador" and "Kavanagh" storylines involve a possibly concealed collision with a British submarine causing the sinking of a fishing trawler. The fact that the trawler is an Irish vessel reportedly in Irish waters at the time of the incident complicates things in the case of "The Ambassador."
The title in the "Ambassador" episode also refers to the newly appointed titular character learning to navigate the diplomatic waters of her new post and also arguing with Nate about his opposition to having a security detail attached to him.
The first series episode "Trade" arguably breaks the record for multiple meanings. It involves international commerce, illicit sexual activity, a private citizen's attempt to swap silence for a government favor, back-room political deals, and a bargained-for clean-up of a crime scene. All of this occurs in roughly 50 minutes.
Two other first series episodes center around Smith's efforts to protect British citizens in Ireland despite the threat associated with related circumstances to tranquility with her host country.
A "Not Without My Child" style plot involves a British wife of a Saudi diplomat seeking asylum in Smith's official residence to avoid asserted harm that she is facing. Another episode in which an accused British drug smuggler provides a credible indication that Nate is engaged in that illegal activity is only one of many complications for Harriet in that episode.
The aptly named series one finale "Playing God" deserves a place on the list of "100 Best British Television Episodes" and would have made an awesome final episode for the program. This one has MI-6 approaching Smith to persuade her predecessor and close friend to not publish a tell-all book. The concerns include said retired diplomat's knowledge of an MI-6 officer arguably callously making a series of decisions that have actual life-or-death consequences for Irish civilians.
Like every great "Ambassador" and "Kavanagh" episode, "God" is loaded with reveals, misleading events, and incredibly tense drama that is both literally and figuratively explosive. A scene in which someone who is either a strong supporter or dangerous foe of Smith gets her alone is especially nerve-wracking for the audience. Another one that places Sam in serious peril is equally compelling.
The second series brings a few changes in the forms of new opening credits, a few character changes, and a serious romance for Smith. The first episode leaves the audience guessing about the extent of the links between corruption related to a large-scale road projects, an night-time intruder, and discovering bugs in the official residence.
The second episode of the second series focuses on a seemingly silly dispute regarding whether Ireland or the U.K. owns an "island" that is simply a big chunk of rock in the sea. Of course, the stakes are soon revealed to be fairly high and events typically create mistrust among allies and others.
Personally lacking diplomatic immunity motivates confessing not having time to watch the final four episodes of "The Ambassador" before composing this review. The perfect track record of the other eight offerings and the high quality of "Kavanagh" provide every reason to believe that these episodes are excellent and that the finale episode ends "The Ambassador" on a perfect note.
There is no doubt that those final episodes will find their way into the official Unreal TV Blu-ray player within the next several weeks.
The final debriefing regarding "The Ambassador" is that it easily passes the "one more" test and is a perfect depiction of the right woman for the job showing tremendous skill and grace in meeting her personal and professional challenges. Smith doing a much better job making time for her kids than most single parents with far less on their plates may be pure fiction but is still great to see.
Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Ambassador" or "Kavanagh" is welcome to email me. I am also available on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.