The distinct absence of Blair

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The Independent Culture
David Hare's fascinating and heartbreaking Racing Demon was a portrait of power and belief as seen through the Church of England. It also happened to be a masterpiece and the first of a theatrical trilogy on the state of the nation. "Why is the sequel never the equal?" cried the critics who couldn't forgive Murmuring Judges, the second part, for not being Racing Demon. More unfairly, the situation didn't improve with The Absence of War (9pm BBC2).

Centring on Labour Party preparations for a general election, Hare had unprecedented access to Kinnock's last campaign and the resulting play didn't please everyone at Walworth Road either.

Despite its dealing with political principles and leadership, it is intriguing to discover that the play is less about grand-scale theorising than personal allegiances. The director Richard Eyre has managed to retain nearly all of his original actors for this TV version, which pays huge dividends. The relationships look genuinely lived-in and the demands of the pruned script (45 minutes have been lost for the screen) are magnificently met by John Thaw doing his finest work since creating Morse, or Clare Higgins shifing gear from media-speak into sincerity in the course of a single speech. In the wake of the demise of Clause Four, it all seems startlingly apt.