Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go

Five years in the making, The Undeclared War is a new Channel 4 drama airing on Thursday 30th June at 9pm, and will be available on All 4, as well as being on Peacock in the US next month. Starring Hannah Khalique-Brown, Adrian Lester, Alex Jennings, Maisie Richardson-Sellers, Kerry Godliman and Simon Pegg, The Undeclared War has been written and directed by Wolf Hall and The Government Inspector's Peter Kosminsky, and is set in 2024, in the run-up to a British General Election, when a major cyber-attack hits the country, knocking out the internet – but not social media. The worst nightmare of all.

Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Channel 4 PR shot of The Undeclared War

Hannah Khalique-Brown plays Saara Parvin, a genius ingenue (engeniusue?) coder picked by British Secret Services at the UK monitoring centre GCHQ, as an intern, thrust into the deep end as the cyber attack hits, with a brand new enemy which is probably Russia – though the first episode has enough clues to provide another suspect. Indeed, if anything the show suffers from having been written and produced before the Ukraine War, as a cyber attack seems relatively minor compared to Russia physically invading Ukraine. But real life world events do underline the threat Russia still poses in this show, after being dismissed for years. And that this show is called The Undeclared War only reminds us that, to Russia, Ukraine is also an undeclared war…

Set in the near, but very recognisable future, The Undeclared War wants to make you scared of the threat it highlights, right now. And it succeeds. We have a Britain in recession, a new Conservative Prime Minister played by Adrian Lester who has deposed Boris Johnson, and a country with an NHS stretched by COVID, where following safety protocols is one rule for us, another for the rich and powerful. The NHS wear masks, GCHQ doesn't do handshakes but COBRA do hugs. There are contradictions, hypocrisy, incompetence and arse-covering all over the place. It feels all too familiar, with the edges turned up a few notches. And Lester has all the feelings of a man who did all he needed to do to get elected, is now driven by poll numbers, but is so out of his depth that he resorts to raising his voice rather than working things out. At least Boris made you laugh when everything falls apart.

Into this comes Saara Parvan, her father's daughter, who carries an intensity into her work and her life, with the weight of expectation from both her family and now the whole country on her shoulders. We see her work in cybersecurity in metaphor, running from location to location, carrying out missions to open boxes, smash through doors, recover keys and read messages, revealed as a real-life expression of what she is actually doing in coding, reminiscent of The Matrix. This is Hannah Khalique-Brown TV debut as a lead, and it is a role she plays with such intensity, watching this show tightened my chest in my seat, in a way I thought I was inured to. Normally, a viewer entry character is generically wide in portrayal so as to draw as many people in, however, Hannah Khalique-Brown portrays a specificity that locks you in as a viewer with a vice-like grip – that then pushes down on you. It's a remarkable performance and one that will be dragging me back for more, unbidden. The first episode of The Undeclared War, for all that Peter Kosminsky is not used to telling serialised stories, had one of the tensest and most convincing cliffhangers since… okay, since Severance. But before that, probably Breaking Bad. I mean, you could wait till it's all out and binge the lot, but I have been enjoying the tense feeling ever since.

The Undeclared War also gives us Simon Pegg playing against his usual wastrel type, but without the overcompensation of Nicolas Angel. Here he is an older authority figure, though not one who can't be put in his place by his political bosses. But even in a position of such authority, he gives the impression of having seen and done it all, this is just another chapter in a very long story that we have just come in at the middle of, just as everything starts to collapse around him. We feel that the collapse started a long time ago, and the show does a fine job at demonstrating how this will affect everyone – and the world that we have become.

It is also remarkable that this show was shot during lockdowns, but doesn't appear compromised as much as some other dramatic productions have been. You get plenty of full sets, with many actors working and integrating with each other, including as we mentioned the hugging, but all somehow within filming protocols, with whatever filming tricks were necessary, utterly invisible. However they did it, it doesn't show on the screen, and it wasn't anything I even gave thought to until the Q&A session after the screening.

Who I would be keeping my eye on? Saara's university rival Gabriel. Maybe we'll learn about exactly what he's been up to and who he's been doing it for with episode 2. Seriously, I saw the first episode weeks ago, and there are still weeks for that to air. I'm not happy.

The Undeclared War is a new Channel 4 drama airing on Thursday 30th June at 9pm, and on All4. Read a Q&A with the cast and crew here, and their take on the future of Channel 4 here.

Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Hattie Morahan (ELIZABETH KAHN)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Simon Pegg (DANNY)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Simon Pegg (DANNY)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Simon Pegg (DANNY), Melanie Gutteridge (CHRISSIE), Andrew Rothney (RICH), Alex Jennings (DAVID NEAL)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Hannah Khalique-Brown (Saara), Joss Porter (PHIL)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Adrian Lester (ANDREW MAKINDE)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Nitin Ganatra (AHMED)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Simon Pegg (DANNY)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Simon Pegg (DANNY), Hattie Morahan (ELIZABETH KAHN)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Hannah Khalique-Brown (Saara), Gavi Singh Chera (SAJID)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Simon Pegg (DANNY), Andrew Rothney (RICH)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Simon Pegg (DANNY), Alex Jennings (DAVID NEAL), Hannah Khalique-Brown (SARRA)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Adrian Lester (ANDREW MAKINDE)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Simon Pegg (DANNY),Alex Jennings (DAVID NEAL)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Adrian Lester (ANDREW MAKINDE), Hannah Khalique-Brown (Saara), Simon Pegg (DANNY),Alex Jennings (DAVID NEAL), Hattie Morahan (ELIZABETH KAHN)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Hannah Khalique-Brown (Saara), Joss Porter (PHIL)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Maise Richardson-Sellers (Kathy), Tom McKay (MAX)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Simon Pegg (DANNY)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Simon Pegg (DANNY), Alex Jennings (DAVID NEAL), Hannah Khalique-Brown (SARRA)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Hannah Khalique-Brown (Saara)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Maise Richardson-Sellers (Kathy), Tom McKay (MAX)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Gavi Singh Chera (SAJID)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Simon Pegg (DANNY)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Adrian Lester (ANDREW)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Adrian Lester (ANDREW)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Simon Pegg (DANNY)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Adrian Lester (ANDREW), Hannah Khalique-Brown (SAARA) & Simon Pegg (DANNY)
Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Adrian Lester (ANDREW), Hannah Khalique-Brown (SAARA) & Simon Pegg (DANNY)

 

The Undeclared War S01E01

Channel 4's The Undeclared War Will Grip Your Chest And Not Let Go
Review by Rich Johnston

8.5/10
Channel 4's new tense cyber-warfare thriller is set in the near, but very recognisable future but wants to make you scared of the threat it shows right now. And it succeeds.
Credits

Actor
Hannah Khalique-Brown
Actor
Adrian Lester
Actor
Alex Jennings
Actor
Maisie Richardson-Sellers
Actor
Kerry Godliman
Actor
Simon Pegg
Writer
Peter Kosminsky
Director
Peter Kosminsky

Enjoyed this? Please share on social media!

About Rich Johnston

Founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world, since 1992. Author of The Flying Friar, Holed Up, The Avengefuls, Doctor Who: Room With A Deja Vu, The Many Murders Of Miss Cranbourne, Chase Variant. Lives in South-West London, works from Blacks on Dean Street, shops at Piranha Comics. Father of two. Political cartoonist.
Comments will load 8 seconds after page. Click here to load them now.