‘Press’ Review: Juggling titillation and morality in the newsroom

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The real-life journalist probably feared the worst about Press. The bona fide truthseeker may have muttered quietly to himself: “Crikey, you’re putting us on telly at the end of a week which began with Vanity Fair, or as it’s been dubbed, Vanity Phwoar. Which continued with Wanderlust, TV’s ‘raunchiest-ever drama’. Which saw confirmation of Bodyguard as the most popular series for a decade and that’s pretty bonktastic, too. Who’s going to care about a bunch of snottery hacks by Thursday night?”

The real-life journalist probably feared the worst about Press. The bona fide truthseeker may have muttered quietly to himself: “Crikey, you’re putting us on telly at the end of a week which began with Vanity Fair, or as it’s been dubbed, Vanity Phwoar. Which continued with Wanderlust, TV’s ‘raunchiest-ever drama’. Which saw confirmation of Bodyguard as the most popular series for a decade and that’s pretty bonktastic, too. Who’s going to care about a bunch of snottery hacks by Thursday night?”

There may also have been concerns that Press (BBC1) was coming from the histrionically flaming pen of Mike Bartlett who wrote Doctor Foster which unlike, say, Peak Practice could never have been confused for a recruitment-drive promo for the profession in question, that of GP. But, this news just in: journos are not too snottery here. They don’t spend lunch-hours which turn into whole weeks down the pub. They’re diligent, dogged and decent. Well, up to a point, Lord Copper.

“Up to a point, Lord Copper” was how everyone in Evelyn Waugh’s newspaper satire Scoop! would avoid contradicting the fearsome proprietor. If everyone was the three D’s in Press it would be worthy but dull, so we have Duncan Allen (Ben Chaplin), a tabloid tyrant who sacks on the spot, brings down politicians and is impervious to grief. To paraphrase Carly Simon, he walks into the newsroom like he’s walking on to a yacht. Well, slithers rather than walks.

Someone, please, impale him to the carpet tiles! With the desk spike for lousy copy newspapers don’t use any more! Well, that would be the panto response. If you think all papers are bad news now. But Bartlett shows us how editor Allen is bold and the broadsheet next door (very worthy but dull) is not. How he juggles and justifies morality and titillation. How the sacked are given second chances. How the politicians have skeletons in the closet worth rattling. How Allen admires posh paper star girl Holly Evans (Charlotte Riley). And how she starts to wonder if life might be a bit more fun, as it were, under him. This could be an advert for newspapers – unable to sell ads of their own – after all. Home lives, though, are shambolic. R&R comes via prostitutes and – gadzooks – opera. Of course, nothing like that ever happens at your paper of choice. Up to a point, Lord Copper.