PG-15 | 10 episodes | Spy Thriller, Drama | Aug. 6, 2022 (USA)
The Solomon Islands rarely made the news reports until the Chinese Communist regime signed a strategic pact with the current government and announced plans for a permanent military base there. Lately, naïve or corrupt small nations have increasingly fallen under the sway of either China or Russia, to the strategic detriment of the West.
With that in mind, the stakes for another Scottish independence referendum couldn’t be higher, unless you happen to be one of the two or three people outside of Scotland who has confidence in the integrity of the separatist SNP (Scottish National Party).
To further raise the pressure on Downing Street, MI5 agent Beatrice Ogilvy uncovers warnings of a massive terrorist plot to be perpetrated during the heated election. The dangers to the United Kingdom’s unity are very real and potentially catastrophic in the 10-part series “Red Election,” which premieres on Ovation.
A sleazy Russian informer booked a lunch with Ogilvy and her soon-to-retire mentor to peddle information on a massive covert operation code-named “Redback.” She will be the only survivor, when a Russian assassin suddenly crashes their party. As a result, her boss, William Ogilvy, who also happens to be her father, takes the threat of Redback deadly seriously.
He therefore advises Prime Minister Adam Cornwell to postpone or, better yet, cancel the Scottish referendum. Unfortunately, the PM made his career through grandstanding shows of his supposed honesty, so he insists on proceeding as he promised.
Yet, the timing is not so great for Cornwell either. He has met Holly, the daughter of a now deceased ex-lover (coincidentally from Scotland), who believes he is her father. Pending confirmation, the intentionally childless Cornwell and his relatively understanding wife Etta try to invite her into their small family unit, but not too far in.
Meanwhile, MI5 flags the suspicious disappearance of Danish energy engineer Torben Jensen, whose highly explosive biofuels could be used for a massive terrorist attack. His girlfriend, Danish intelligence officer Katrine Poulsen is looking for him too, but Ogilvy instantly suspects her of complicity. Nobody else trusts her much either but, as the designated Danish point-person, she still manages to insinuate herself into their investigation.
Question of Independence
The nature of Redback remains murky until the end, but it is safe to say everything dovetails and coincides for a reason. Indeed, much of the geopolitical intrigue in “Red Election” is very sharply written. It is pretty much guaranteed to change the minds of those who entertained the notion of just “letting Scotland” go, to be done with their constant complaints and kneejerk representation in parliament.
In this case, Russia is the bad actor in question, but it is scarily easy to imagine how China might also seek to exploit belt-and-road-style a newly independent Scotland.
Technically, all questions will be answered eventually, but “Red Election” ends with a real cliff-hanger that clearly anticipates a second season. This is an annoying trend among series that might not necessarily get the series renewal they are hoping for. Nevertheless, the potential dramatic prospects of a second season could be explosively controversial.
Regardless, Lydia Leonard solidly anchors the series as Beatrice Ogilvy. She is intense and sometimes extreme, but we still pull for her. Of course, veteran character actor Stephen Dillane still steals just about every scene as the crafty and caustic William Ogilvy. It is either reassuring or terrifying to think a man of his cunning and resourcefulness might be highly placed in the UK’s security services, depending on your perspective and politics. Kobna Holdbrook-Smith proves to be a compelling foil as Beatrice’s MI5 rival, Levi Nichols, and helps maintain the credibility of the spycraft and office politics that unfold.
In contrast, Victoria Carmen Sonne portrayal of Poulsen is maybe too distant and abrasive for the series’ own good, whereas James D’Arcy is so nauseatingly self-righteous as Cornwell, it makes the Scottish independence movement look perversely less ill-advised.
In a series full of betrayals, it is not always clear who the bad guys are, but for some extra, unambiguous villainy, Robert Cavanah is fittingly ruthless and paranoid as Temple Laird, a Scottish separatist terrorist, who is unwittingly caught up in the Redback schemes and counter measures.
“Red Election” depicts its MI5 agents as decidedly flawed individuals, but the attack they scramble to defuse is complicated by very real political dynamics. It is not likely to earn a recommendation from the SNP anytime soon, but the action and espionage will keep most mainstream viewers hooked.
Highly recommended for fans of John le Carré and the old MI5 series, “Red Election” starts airing Aug. 6 on Ovation TV.
Director: Jill Robertson, Paul Murphy, Declan Recks
Stars: Lydia Leonard, Stephen Dillane, Victoria Carmen Sonne, Robert Cavanah
Running Time: 45 minutes per episode (10)
MPAA Rating: PG-15
Original Release Date: Oct. 3, 2021
Rating: 4 out of 5