‘Hacks’ DVD review

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As one half of the team which created the long running 1990’s topical comedy, Drop the Dead Donkey, set behind the scenes of a fictional television newsroom, writer and director Guy Jenkin was on firm territory with Channel 4’s Hacks.

First screened at New Year, Hacks takes us on a satirical breakneck gallop through the phone hacking scandal and how it destroyed a newspaper. Set in the office of the Sunday tabloid ‘The Comet’, expect adult language from the outset as we see the staff gleefully phone hacking, blagging, bugging and bribing.

As the editor puts it: “…they’re celebs. Anyone with a publicist has got it coming!” With the police turning a blind eye and the politicians in their pockets the paper is riding high, driven by the need to provide salacious headlines by their demanding proprietor.

A feisty performance from Claire Foy, as ambitious editor Kate Loy, holds the piece together. Newly promoted, she takes no prisoners despite a personal romantic entanglement with a soap star and a guilty conscience that keeps her awake at night.

Rising to the top in a male-dominated newsroom where one-upmanship is rife, she has to cope with a duplicitous deputy-editor as well as handling the work experience girl and all the stages in-between. She does this in a brassy, dictatorial style, but as the scandal breaks and her methods are open to question, the net closes in on Kate and the paper’s owner.

Michael Kitchen plays the workaholic media magnate for all he is worth, in a damning take on Rupert Murdoch. Married to a demanding younger Asian wife, and with an apparently feckless son who’s waiting to assume control of the business, the paper is subject to the whims and frustrations of the man; from his deals with the fawning leader of the opposition (Alexander Armstrong), to his bizarre obsession with getting ‘something’ on the Dalai Lama.

Bold, brassy and with its tongue firmly in its cheek, Hacks is a satire in broad strokes.

There is time for subtly and a few pot shots too, including some rather on the nose commentary surrounding the lengths the political parties will go to in order to curry favour. As Feast puts it himself, just prior to making an arrangement with the Conservative opposition leader, “One day they’ll work it out, my support doesn’t win them the election, I just support the one who’s going to fucking win!”

The programme is not without its poignant moments too. Scene transitions play across shots of the city where fragments of voicemail messages are heard; some are funny, some furtive, many either sad or distressing.

In one disturbing scene, played straight, office junior Zoe reads the transcript of a heartrending message regarding what appears to be a grieving mother. As she does, Editor Kate forks through her lunch before dismissing it as being unusable. It’s the matter of fact way in which this is done that brings home how little scruples the characters have.

One excellent running gag is the series of attempts by journalist Rav (Fonejacker star Kayvan Novak) to get information through impersonation including takes on Prince Phillip, Gordon Brown and Janet Jackson.

Of course, being a fictional account allows the tale to resolve in a far more satisfying manner than the drawn out Levenson enquiry. Instead, Jenkin opts for some natural justice.

As the paper goes down, Loy takes the opportunity to print all the stories they have sat on and Feast falls foul of a plot concocted by his son and wife, leaving him literally high and dry.

Sporting star turns from some well-known British stars including Russ Abbot, Nigel Planer, Celia Imrie and Phil Davis, Hacks is a riotous piece that manages to land a few punches at the establishment on the way.

Released on DVD on Monday 23rd January 2012 by 4DVD.

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