Harriet Smith (Pauline Collins) is the newly appointed British ambassador to Northern Ireland. Recently widowed, she has to juggle the demands of her family (Harriet has two teenage sons who don’t understand why her job has to take precedence over them) as well as numerous day-to-day diplomatic challenges.
Thrust into a world where truth is often a flexible commodity, Harriet is fortunate to have the staunch support of commercial attaché John Stone (Denis Lawson). But Stone also serves another master (MI6) which means that he occasionally pursues his own agenda, something which becomes more pronounced in the second series ….
It’s hard to argue that The Ambassador is a terribly realistic series, but it’s entertaining nonetheless. Harriet seems just a little bit too good to be true – whilst everybody else stumbles around, she’s sometimes able to sort out seemingly insoluble problems in a matter of minutes. But if the plotting can feel a little contrived at times, there’s also a pleasing sense that the world she now lives in is painted in shades of grey. So even when she turns out to be right we can’t always expect a “happy” ending.
In the first series she clashes with Steven Tyler (William Chubb) and Kevin Flaherty (Owen Roe). It may not be entirely surprising that although both Tyler and Flaherty start off as implacable rivals they later become staunch allies. More interesting is the relationship she shares with John Stone. Stone, with his MI6 connections, is invaluable whenever Harriet needs to dip into murky waters, but he seems to undergo something of a change between series. In series one he tends to act in Harriet’s best interests but that’s not the case during the second series. This does add a little spice to the stories though, and Lawson is an actor who’s always worth watching.
Since she’s at the centre of most of the action, Pauline Collins is the glue that holds the series together, although it’s possible to argue that she has a little more to work with in the second series. This is partly because Peter Egan is introduced as Michael Cochrane, who becomes Harriet’s love interest. Her relationship with Michael helps to humanize her a little, as well as generating a rather unsurprising plot-twist when it turns out that he has a dramatic impact on her professional life ….
Out of the twelve episodes, the following were of particular interest. A Cluster of Betrayals sees a hostage crisis take place at the embassy, as a distraught father (whose son died from radiation poisoning) brandishes a canister of nuclear waste in an attempt to draw attention to the pollution he claims has been created by leakages from British power plants. Things aren’t going well until Harriet steps in to handle negotiations. This is one of those episodes where it seems just a little too pat that Harriet is able to diffuse the situation when everybody else has failed.
Cost Price sees Harriet’s personal and professional lives collide as Michael is kidnapped. Unable to negotiate directly for his release, she’s forced to watch proceedings from the sidelines. Although both series were an excellent vehicle for Pauline Collins, the personal angle for Harriet in this episode helped to ramp up the tension a little more.
The final episode of series two, Getting Away From Murder, ensured that The Ambassador ended on a high. After Tyler’s wife is found dead from an overdose, he’s accused by the Garda of murder. He pleads diplomatic immunity (in order to not to derail some sensitive negotiations) leaving Harriet to wonder whether one of her key allies could really be a cold-blooded murderer. With the truth not disclosed until just before the end, this is a very effective mystery story.
Thanks to strong central performances from Pauline Collins and Denis Lawson and quality support from the likes of Owen Roe, William Chubb, Peter Egan and Eve Matheson, The Ambassador is certainly a series that’s worth a look. Guest appearances from the likes of Michael Angelis, Philip Jackson, T.P. McKenna, Frederick Treves, Geoffrey Whitehead, Michael Cochrane, Jack Dee and Tenniel Evans don’t hurt either. Although Harriet may be rather too perfect, if you can suspend your disbelief then there’s plenty to hold your attention across both series
The Ambassador – Complete Collection is released by Simply Media on the 15th of August 2016. RRP £34.99.