‘Blackout’: Episode 1 review

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Anyone who’s woken with a jackhammer headache drilling its way out of their skull, a taste like the floor of an uncleaned hamster cage on their tongue and no memory whatsoever of the night before might think they’ve suffered an alcoholic blackout. However, it’s fairly safe to say that few have experienced anything quite as cataclysmic as what befalls the main character in this three-part thriller.

Christopher Eccleston stars as Daniel Demoys, a corrupt councilman who does his best to put the ‘fun’ into ‘functioning alcoholic’ by seeing off a Jeffrey Bernard-sized lake of booze by day (starting with a few slugs of vodka on the school run) and shagging the sexually adventurous, estranged wife of a police detective in a club toilet by night, doing his level best to ignore the huge piles of elephant shit that are building up on the floor of every room in which he sets foot – most notably the fact that his wife Alex (Dervla Kirwan) has had enough of his drunkenness and is on the verge of leaving him, while his kids’ feelings towards their father range from disappointed to terrified.

Yet no matter how low he’s sunk in his family’s estimation, nobody despises Daniel and what he’s become more than he does. ‘I’m a sorry excuse for a local politician,’ he laments. ‘I’m weak, I’m selfish, I’m a coward’ – and his dipsomania and dickheadedness dissolve into disaster during a meeting with equally-dishonest businessman Henry Pulis (David Hayman).

‘Do you want your kids to know what a whore-loving scumbag you are?’ Pulis threatens when their dodgy deal goes awry … and the next thing Daniel knows, he’s at home the next morning on the far side of a blackout, blood all over his shirt, while Pulis is in a coma, the living crap having been beaten out of him.

So far, so bad, and Daniel realises that his life has finally spiralled out of control. He goes to see his lawyer sister Lucy (Lyndsey Marshal), but what he really needs is absolution. Incredibly, he seems to find it.

Lucy’s present client has just given evidence in court against drug gangs, and when a dealer tries to exact a violent revenge upon the grass, Daniel throws himself into the path of the bullet. He wakes up in hospital, wounded but alive, and a national hero to boot. Before he’s even had a chance to shave, canny council official Jerry Durrans (Ewen Bremner) is at his bedside. There’s a mayoral election looming and the wannabe kingmaker sees Daniel as an ideal candidate to stand.

‘You have singlehandedly given the city a politician they can believe him,’ he says – but with the sins on Daniel’s conscience piled higher than a Charlestown tower block and the police searching for the man who attacked Pulis, how can a career in public office go anything but pear-shaped?

Blackout is a fascinating tale of personal failings, moral degradation and the search for redemption amid the self-destructed wreckage of a once noble life. It’s also an accurate recreation of the boozing experience, Daniel Demoys’s alcoholic flashbacks to the hazy darkness of an epic binge forming a crucial part of the narrative, as fragments of scarcely-remembered sex and violence drop into the unfolding drama like shots of Jägermeister into Red Bull.

Scenes replay over and over again from different angles, images of blood and rain convulsing through into previously calm moments like a bad case of the DTs.

These jumps back and forth are unsettling (deliberately so, no doubt) and they keep the pace lively. But even if the story dragged like a 4am stagger home from the city centre to the suburbs, Christopher Eccleston would save it from ever becoming boring. Here he takes an essentially unlikeable, self-centred failure of a character and gives him enough depth to evoke a powerful mixture of contempt and sympathy. Daniel is the architect of his own downfall and the product of a society which has set him up to fail, and Eccleston is as beguiling in his portrayal of the man’s decent qualities as he is haunting in depicting his darker side.

Whether his career in public office provides the opportunity to make amends or turns into a nightmare (night mayor?), the travails of Daniel Demoys are well worth following. But it’s probably best not to watch them with a hangover.

Airs at 9pm on Monday 2nd July 2012 on BBC One.

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