Last Night's TV: Slick moves among the oily characters

If you've watched any polemical thrillers at all, you'll know that they generally keep at least one wide-eyed innocent to hand, so that the sort of information that would go without saying for the main protagonists actually can get said aloud at some point. The ignorance of this character is a proxy for ours, a representative cluelessness that allows us to be told what we need to know.

No surprise then to find that Simon Beaufoy's new two-part ecological thriller, Burn Up, contains just such a character, a sweetly unworldly figure who discovers that the oil business can be a lethally cynical affair and that powerful forces wish to prevent anyone from learning the full scale of the global-warming crisis. What is a bit surprising is that the useful idiot should be the man who has just been appointed as CEO of an oil company with profits of $13bn a year. "If you don't mind, I'm going to dig up some dirt on this Inuit chick and get it in the papers,", said the company PR man, as he discussed a troublesome protester. "You would do that?" replied Tom McConnell in appalled tones. God knows what's on his CV, but it sounds as if he's been headhunted from a top-level post helping nursery-school children do finger-painting.

Tom McConnell's implausible naivety isn't the only problem in Beaufoy's drama, which contains nearly as many logical holes as it does good intentions. And the first hole was upon us almost before we'd begun. In the Saudi Arabian desert, a geological survey team was at work. One of their number wandered off to the latrine, thus escaping an attack by hired mercenaries that left all of his colleagues dead. But why exactly did the survivor download all his critical data on to a portable hard drive before taking his toilet break? A crossword will do it for most of us. Why, more to the point, didn't he immediately make multiple copies of the McGuffin files or just email it to the person who needed to see it. Never mind, because back in London Tom McConnell was enjoying the fruits of his new position – a luxury car given to him by a grateful oil sheikh – and learning, from his friend Mack, that there is always a quid for the quo. Would he mind terribly if the Americans used one of the company airfields for a CIA kidnap flight?

Mack, played by Bradley Whitford, is the villain of the piece, a born-again oil man so sulphurously indifferent to global warming that he welcomes the melting of the Arctic ice-cap because it will open up more profitable shipping routes for the company's oil tankers. Mack sneers at anyone worried about greenhouse gases ("Prime Minister hasn't been watching Inconvenient Poop, has he?") and does all in his power to prevent awkward facts from getting in the way of carbon-burning capitalism. "Doubt is our product," he told his team as they prepared for a Congressional hearing into global warming, "the manufacture of doubt, never forget that."

Ranged against him are Holly, Arrow Oil's renewables enthusiast, Mika, an Inuit activist who somewhat perversely protested against rising carbon-dioxide emissions by dousing herself in gasoline and striking a match, and Tom himself, shocked by this incident into visiting the Arctic to see for himself. While there, he discovered how grave the crisis is and does some exploratory drilling into Holly. By the end of episode one, he'd decided to sell the company's nasty, polluting tar-sands deposits and plough all the money into solar panels, explaining to his startled board that China had already produced its first solar-energy billionaire. I checked the last fact on the internet and Tom's right. There really is such a man, which made me think some kind of onscreen caption ("This Bit Is True") might have been useful in a drama that was, to its credit, trying to educate its audience as well as entertain them. No caption would have been necessary for the bits that didn't match up to the real world. They were, unfortunately, glaringly obvious.

I don't think the Top Gear team will much care for Burn Up, since the programme now takes on a hysterical air of fury whenever the issue of global warming comes up. Last night, in the repeat of Sunday's programme, they were excoriating Hilary Benn for noting that the rise in fuel prices might help to discourage consumption, and Jeremy Clarkson elaborated a theory that would have had Mack whooping like a Texas oilman. "This is from chapter one in the left-wing-dictatorship handbook," said Clarkson. "Stalin. First thing he did is limit movement... Second thing, ID cards, know what I'm saying... Third thing is curfews... Redruth in Cornwall this week... You mark my words... We just proved Gordon Brown is Stalin." The loyal petrolhead storm troopers cheered wildly and then settled back happily to watch Clarkson mashing a bluebell patch to pulp with a new 4x4. They're not going down without a fight.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Summer nights: ‘Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp’
TVBut what do we Brits really know about them?
Arts and Entertainment
Dr Michael Mosley is a game presenter

TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
    Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

    The dark side of Mexico

    A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

    Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

    Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935