REVIEWED: SERIES 1 (ALL EPISODES) | WHERE TO WATCH: BBC IPLAYER
Samuel Petrukhin (Toby Stephens) is a Russian-born Jewish emigre who owns a hearing aid company and is in the early stages of launching his newly invented paging device. His work attracts the attention of MI5 who think his inventions and his blossoming friendship with MP Richard Shaw (Linus Roache) could make him a useful asset. It’s the summer of 1958, only a year after the launch of Sputnik by the USSR and Britain is testing its own hydrogen bomb. Samuel’s teenage daughter, Hannah, is frightened by the prospect of a nuclear war obliterating humanity, and she rebels against being signed up by her social-climbing father as a debutant who has to present herself to the Queen at court. As Samuel gets embroiled with Shaw, he comes into contact with his wife Kathleen (Keeley Hawes) and the sinister Lord Wellington played with creepy gusto by Lord Wallington. He soon discovers that the family have the shadow of their missing son cast over them. Kathleen is desperate to find him, but no one knows where he is or seems willing to help her.
Everyone here has a secret or is involved in some form of deception. The long lost son of the Shaws has taken on a new identity and life; Lord Wallington is involved in a high-level conspiracy; Hannah lies about attending her debutant parties and prefers to secretly spend time with one of her father’s factory workers, and even Samuel’s young son is told to keep a secret. Most of these deceptions and lies escape Samuel (who is probably the worst spy in screen history!), but being equipped with a bugging device the size of a grand piano tucked under his shirt isn’t a great help.
The six-part series is brilliantly photographed and slowly unfolds to reveal the turmoil of a world that is metaphorically only a few minutes from destruction due to the new wonders of the atomic bomb combined with intercontinental ballistic missiles. Yet, all is not lost, as the new fangled television that inhabits Samuel’s living room helps in a very tenuous sub-plot to avert a political disaster. Besides the impact of the Cold War and its relation to technology and ideology, the script by Stephen Poliakoff also examines the issues of race, discrimination, and snobbery in post-war Britain - much of it reflecting the experiences of his own family at that time. It’s a thoughtful series that brings to life the summer of rockets, mixing a wide variety of characters who eventually come to terms with their place in the world and what the future offers, for good or bad.