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COBRA Review: Tough, raw, gritty drama

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Victoria Hamilton and Marsha Thomason star in COBRA, now on PBS Passport. Photo: CNS/Sky UK via PBS
Victoria Hamilton and Marsha Thomason star in COBRA, now on PBS Passport. Photo: CNS/Sky UK via PBS

The binge-worthy political drama COBRA has nothing to do with snakes.

Rather, COBRA is an acronym for “Cabinet Office Briefing Room A,” the subterranean command centre in London where British government leaders convene amid a national emergency – in this drama’s case, not a global pandemic but an “invisible geomagnetic storm.”

The six-episode series, which debuted on Sunday 4 October is streaming on PBS Passport.
Ben Richards, who created and wrote this series for Sky UK, evokes House of Cards as he prowls the corridors of power, revealing how a crisis brings out the best, and worst, in politicians.

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Viewers are advised that, as the catastrophe expands and violence erupts, so does the dialogue’s foul language. (The crude – though not the profane – words are bleeped for broadcast on PBS.)

Hell hath no fury like Mother Nature, and the storm in question is a doozy, thanks to a massive solar flare that knocks out satellites and fries the power grid across much of Europe.

Soon all of Britain is in the dark, and a jetliner falls from the sky, crashing on a crowded highway. Prime Minister Robert Sutherland (Robert Carlyle) opens COBRA, sending everyone scurrying to the basement with its handy generator.

Sutherland’s right-hand woman is tough chief of staff Anna Marshall (Victoria Hamilton).

She lives up to her nickname “Lady Macbeth” as she wards off threats to her boss from within, especially from the ruthless Home Secretary, Archie Glover-Morgan (David Haig), who thirsts for the top job.

The pressure mounts on Fraser Walker (Richard Dormer), head of the Civil Contingencies Secretariat, to restore power – and, with it, law and order.

Soon lights are on in 80 per cent of the country, but not the disaffected North, which is designated the “Red Zone.”

Rioting ensues there as vigilante groups like the so-called “People’s Justice” take to the streets.

Adding to the woes is an unseen escaped convict who, despite the nickname “Freckles,” is a bloodthirsty rapist and killer, rampaging the countryside.

Meanwhile, soapy elements are mixed into this nail-biting drama. Sunderland’s daughter, Ellie (Marisa Abela), celebrates her university graduation by inviting friends over for a drug party, during which one of them overdoses and dies.

Ellie’s mother, Rachel (Lucy Cohu), a lawyer, panics and advises a cover-up, with the full cooperation of slippery Downing Street press secretary Peter Mott (Edward Bennett).

Anna runs into an old flame, Edin (Alexandre Willaume), and has an affair (taking full advantage of the darkness) despite being “happily” married with children.

Little does she know that Edin does not have her best interests – or those of the country – at heart.

Anarchy in the North threatens to topple the Conservative government, and Sutherland hangs onto power for dear life. Battle lines are drawn, and ministers turn on each other, with put-down lines like, “You’re as pure as my dog’s bowels after he’s devoured the Christmas cheese selection.”

Nobody said politics was pretty – or tasteful.

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