Satellite television has arrived in Europe, and it will take a brave new vision to realise this new technology to its ultimate fruition. Enter The People's Channel which has started to advertise across the Continent, and here in Britain they are seeking the right face for their flagship show, looking at various options of the most avuncular variety who will make their presentation as cosy and comfortable for their viewers as possible. They settle upon James Marriner (Dirk Bogarde), considered a hasbeen by the mainstream, and reduced to opening supermarkets as the work has dried up as far as broadcasting goes. He agrees to an interview with boss Grace Gardner (Lee Remick) and is impressed - but there's something about her that makes him uneasy.
It's interesting to go back to the late nineteen-eighties as see how the culture of the day believed the world of media was going to open up, especially as none of it predicted the huge rise in popularity of the internet; as seen here, they seemed to think that companies with vested interests would be dominating the news and entertainment that in effect controlled information and the way the population regarded their society. The People's Channel in this was explicitly Christian fundamentalist, interesting for been seen as something sinister especially as writer William Nicholson and director Norman Stone began their careers working for religious documentary series Everyman, so you would expect them to know of which they spake.
No such documentary rigour here, however, it was purely speculative, and as intriguing for what it did not predict as for what it did. In this, mogul Robert Maxwell was dropped into conversation as an example of the kind of person who would be ruling the airwaves of the future, and that did not work out because his criminality was exposed a few years later, leaving the way open for his great rival Rupert Murdoch to step in, and he is not mentioned at all, in spite of his American Fox News Channel coming across as the epitome of the political agenda-led news delivery of the sort the fictional service in this would be the most blatant example. Then again, Nicholson did get it right about how such services would build their customer bases.
Hooking the public with sport and movies, basically, apparently reasoning if you didn't like one you'd like the other, though the extensive use of U.S. imports on channels reserved for them did not arise here, possibly because British television was still regarded as the best in the world during the eighties. Marriner likes the idea of being at the forefront of this new wave in broadcasting, particularly as it brings him back into the nation's homes (the face you can trust on television persona is one that appeals to him and Gardner), but what he does not count on is how far his new bosses will delve into his private life to ensure he is their sort of person, and when they discover he has been conducting an affair, they are initially not best pleased, yet then devise ways of turning this to their advantage.
They can distance themselves from the scandal, because it leaves them looking as if they had the moral high ground all along, and use the publicity as a boost to their advertising, and this does a very convincing job of depicting the milieu of a media that scramble around to bring the famous low, and everyone else who may be in the way, to generate huge profits from misfortune. Eileen Atkins played Marriner's wife, and gets a great scene where she invites the reporters in to her house to tell them a story they can exploit, indeed she came close to walking away with the show, but Bogarde, in one of his final roles, was quietly tragic as a man who knows he is an idiot for placing himself in this situation, but only when it was too late, and Remick offered an icy geniality to the company that is revealed to have an apocalyptic plan for Europe that seems farfetched, and you would hope still is. Helena Bonham Carter had an early role as Marriner's student daughter, and Lynda Bellingham was his smoothly capable replacement at the channel. Originally a TV movie for the Screen Two strand, and full of sociological interest. Music by Bill Connor.
[Available on DVD from Network, with an image gallery as an extra.]