TV review: Climate change drama fails to engage

Jason Watkins plays Professor Philip Jones in The Trick. Picture by Laurence Cendrowicz/ BBC

The Trick, BBC One, Monday at 8.30pm

CAST your minds back to 2009 when the 'Climategate' scandal broke.

Can't really remember it? Neither could I.

But the controversy surrounding the climate change crisis has been dramatised to become a conspiracy thriller - or that was the aim anyway.

Starring Jason Watkins, it tells the story of Professor Philip Jones, the director of climate research at the University of East Anglia, who was targeted in a major hack.

Prof Jones and his team of climatologists find that their work has been copied by climate change deniers, who argued that global warming was a conspiracy and that scientists manipulated climate data.

Their emails, which ran into the thousands, were stolen three weeks before the Copenhagen climate talk summit, including a number of messages which seemed to suggest the scientists had exaggerated the threat of climate change.

The hackers used the contents to suggest that the unit, and specifically Prof Jones, had altered the data to exaggerate an increase in temperatures.

The 90-minute drama is focused particularly on the quiet and unassuming scientist, with the title of 'The Trick' referring to his reference in an email about a research method or 'trick' that was taken out of context to argue that he was manipulating the data.

The programme follows him and his wife Ruth as their lives are turned upside down by a high-profile media scandal.

He is forced to defend his findings through the massive media storm where we watch his mental health deteriorate, especially in the face of sinister death threats sent to him and his family.

A man living on the edge, in one particular scene, he shakes violently as he struggles to put together a jigsaw puzzle, while news reports play in the background.

With his integrity under attack, Prof Jones must convince the public that his findings are accurate and should be believed.

Watkins said of his portrayal of Prof Jones that it was a "privilege to play the brilliant scientist....whose own private world was so threatened from outside and whose research and efforts have been so vital globally in combating the effects of climate change".

The drama also stars Jerome Flynn and George Mackay as the PR experts who are brought in to try and undo the damage done to Prof Jones' reputation and Victoria Hamilton, who plays his wife Ruth, a defiant woman who is desperate to support her husband, but unsure of how to reach him.

"They can't argue with the facts," she says as she tries to assure him.

Prof Jones and his team were ultimately exonerated following numerous probes, which found no evidence of fraud or scientific misconduct.

It was concluded they had no case to answer, but the consequences were long-lasting with the controversy proving to have a significant impact on public perception of the accuracy of climate change research.

From the outset, The Trick is a classic story of an individual and a family being put through the mill by forces beyond their control. It is also a timely reminder of the current climate change crisis we are facing.

But as a drama, it failed to engage, at times it was slow and frustrating and at other times, confusing.

Like Watkins himself, who admitted he didn't "have a strong memory of the scandal at the time", I also have limited recollection of the controversy surrounding 'Climategate'.

To try to dramatise the crisis, it just didn't work.

If nothing else, perhaps it will get viewers thinking about the issue of climate change. Will it provoke enough of us to act and do more to help tackle this major issue? That remains to be seen.

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