We didn’t exactly need one, but ITV’s powerful Hillsborough drama Anne has been a timely reminder that Maxine Peake is just about the best actor working in telly at the moment.
Playing the heroine in the acclaimed series has rightly had people celebrating her work once again, but her #MeToo drama Rules of the Game couldn’t be more different by comparison.
Sadly, it feels far less worthy of her talents, too.
The actress leads the cast of new BBC series, which focuses on sexual politics in the workplace and is inspired in part by Harvey Weinstein.
When a body is found in the reception of a northern sportswear company, Maxine’s incorrigible manager Sam is forced to reflect on the events that lead to the death and the workplace environment that allowed such terrible things to conspire – while hiding the truth for us, and it seems, herself.
Her recollection begins with the arrival of HR director Maya (Sex Education star Rakhee Thakrar) who has an uphill struggle tackling the insidious lad culture in the office.
Episode one of the new BBC series has less to say about awful men, and more about those who enable them, with Maxine’s deeply flawed protagonist front and centre.
But, sadly, her performance is the only thing in the series worth investing in.
Rules of the Game should be better than it is, and it’s frustrating that it doesn’t do justice to its acting talents and its perennially timely subject matter.
It’s hard to see why. It’s produced by the team who brought us the Bafta-winning drama National Treasure, and Alison Steadman also features in a pretty starry cast. But it feels like an oddly perfunctory take, without any of the unsettling subtlety of 2020 film The Assistant which tackled the subject matter in more assured fashion.
It’s held back by stodgy dialogue and blocky direction, and there’s a slightly glib tone to the whole thing which feels strange from the outset. One of the very first lines of dialogue sets an odd precedent, with the desensitised detective interviewing Sam after she finds the body, saying: ‘Women like pills, men like blowing their brains out. Hanging’s a bit of a leveller.’ Yeesh.
Like many TV fans, we’d watch Maxine Peake in just about anything, but Rules of the Game isn’t as smart, or angry as the subject matter deserves.
She might be just about the best actor working in telly at the moment, but after Anne, this feels like a misstep.
Rules of the Game airs on BBC One at 9pm on Tuesday January 11.