The Weekend's Viewing: Hacks, Sun, Channel 4 Treasure Island, Sun, Sky1


Click to follow
The Independent Culture

When Guy Jenkin and Andy Hamilton satirised media values in their Nineties sitcom Drop The Dead Donkey they produced a perceptive but gentle chiding of failing newsroom standards and most journalists loved it. They won't have found Hacks so funny.

The phone-hacking scandal is no media industry in-joke but an already much-publicised story of shameful events that the audience will have instantly recognised.

It was snappily written but it seems almost futile to try to exaggerate for comic effect the extreme methods that we know were actually employed at the News of the World. So when we saw Tabby, the pearl-wearing royal correspondent for the Sunday Comet, tasked with hacking the phone calls of the “Ginger Prince” we well knew the dapper Clive Goodman – her real life equivalent at the News of the World – was up to so much more.

Channel 4 ran the inevitable disclaimer: “The characters and events in this film are entirely fictitious.” That may not have satisfied ex-staffers at the News of the World. Former showbiz editor Rav Singh and former investigations editor Mazher “The Fake Sheikh” Mahmood (neither of whom have been accused of criminal activity) can't have been impressed at the portrayal of the Sunday Comet's most scurrilous reporter Rav Musharraf (Kayvan Novak), who is shown trying to blag documents in the voices of Desmond Tutu, Sean Connery and Prince Philip (“just fax me the bleeding bank statement you imbecile”).

Novak's was one of many slick performances. Claire Foy was scary as a ruthless editor with some of the ambitious traits of Rebekah Brooks. Michael Kitchen deftly played Stanhope Feast, a media baron with an Australian accent, a fruity vocabulary and a feisty young Oriental wife with a talent for close combat, Ho Chi Mao Feast (Eleanor Matsuura).

Hackgate has been such a gripping and multi-dimensional story that the hour-long drama rattled along at the pace of a good Sunday tabloid. And with the Leveson inquiry still unfolding, much of the material felt hot off the press. Scotland Yard should have squirmed at Russ Abbot's portrayal of a top cop and politicians were expertly lampooned for their obsequiousness towards the media.

But the Channel 4 audience, amused as it might have been by this all-too-real tale of tabloid excess, will have been left with little sense of the value of journalism. The role of other newspapers in exposing hacking was skipped over, leaving Ray (Phil Davis), a veteran reporter with an aversion to the dark arts, to represent Fleet Street's conscience.

Rupert Murdoch's influence on British media culture was mercilessly satirised. Hacks ended with an abandoned Stanhope Feast, hopping mad on his skyscraper helipad as the pages of his dead newspaper blew away in the wind. But the real life mogul is still worth more than $7bn and his News Corp empire generates $33bn a year in revenues, so that part at least was indeed entirely fictitious.

Sky1's Treasure Island wasn't bad either, writes Tom Sutcliffe, though far more straightforward in its pleasures. A lot of money has been spent on this version of the classic story and it hasn't been wasted. It looks great and, after a brief prologue that shows us how Long John Silver lost his leg, trusts in Stevenson's original prescription for a gripping yarn, rather than mucking up his narrative with Hollywood wisdom. Eddie Izzard plays Long John Silver, offering further evidence that the default setting for cinema buccaneers now is Eyeliner Pirate. The men themselves, as in the original, are obsessed with the whereabouts of Captain Flint's treasure. What I wanted to know was where they all keep their make-up bags.