Bird of Prey (BBC 1982). Episode Four – Printout Urgent

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The last in a four-part thriller for the electronic age featuring Richard Griffiths
Episode 4: Printout Urgent
Henry is at bay. His home in ruins, his allies and hard-won evidence all destroyed. Face to face with the gathering strength of ‘Le Pouvoir’ and the grandiose scheme of its protégé – Euro MP Hugo Jardine.
(Radio Times Listing, 13th May 1982)

With Henry believing that one of the explosions from the end of part three killed Anne (instead it was the unfortunate Tomkins who perished) he moves into attack mode.  He substitutes himself for Jardine’s chauffeur and drives him to an abandoned warehouse.  His original plan is to kill Jardine and then make as much trouble as he can for Jardine’s organisation before his own death – but when he learns that Anne is still alive he agrees to a swop.

There’s no denying that Henry’s abduction of Jardine stretches credibility as it’s difficult to believe that such a powerful man would travel with no protection at all.  Jardine (Christopher Logue) is a good example of the banality of evil, which makes his confrontation with Henry very interesting.

When Henry first speaks to Jardine he believes that Anne is dead – but Jardine professes not to know about her death or any of the others.  He tells Henry that “I know nothing of the names you mention. I have people imposed upon me. I have no say in their methods. Because your heart is broken does not license you to stop mine”.  How much of a pawn Jardine is in other people’s plans is a matter of conjecture, but it does highlight that there never seems to be a single person sitting in total control at the top of the pyramid – everybody always seems to answer to somebody else.

Elsewhere, Bridgnorth explains to Hendersly exactly what Jardine’s scheme is, in a scene that would be an unbearably egregious info-dump if it wasn’t for that fact that Nigel Davenport was such a good actor well able to rattle off such exposition-heavy dialogue with great aplomb.

Jardine, along with the shadowy Italian conglomerate, has tabled a bid to build a deluxe Channel tunnel.  Bridgnorth says that it will create “125,000 new jobs in construction and engineering. 50 or 60 thousand new service and retail jobs. Only Jardine has the political will and the financial clout to stitch a deal like this together. Road and rail links side by side. The Rolls Royce solution to the Channel link”.  With a potential fortune to be made, trouble-makers like Henry would appear to have a very limited life expectancy.

The hand-over between Jardine and Anne goes ahead – although not quite as some of the players might have expected.  Henry and Anne are safe though, but their future seems less certain.  Henry was able to broker a deal with Rome – he agreed not to release the files he has on them and in turn they pulled out of the Channel bid.  And if Henry doesn’t input a counter-instruction code every three months, the files will be released to every government computing centre across Europe.

This will keep Henry and Anne safe for now, but he’s well aware that they’ll try to break his code and if they do then their lives will be rather short (which sets us up nicely for the sequel Bird of Prey II).

Overall, this is a very decent thriller.  Although trailed in the Radio Times as a story for the electronic age, computers really don’t feature very significantly at all (except for the ending, where it’s the information contained within the computer that’s keeping Henry and Anne alive).  Production-wise, it’s typical of the era – VT interiors and film for exteriors.  If it had been all-film (like an increasing number of serials during the early to mid 80’s) then it might have been more stylish.  As it is, the direction is workmanlike but rather flat, with only the odd moment standing out.  Instead, it’s the actors (rather than the camerawork) which makes the story.

Richard Griffiths shines as the undemonstrative Henry and Nigel Davenport is impressive as his main rival.  As the DVD was deleted some time ago it now tends to sell for silly money – but if you can track down a reasonably priced copy then it’s certainly worth a look (particularly if you like drama of that era).

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