Appellate Judge James A. Stewart hopes to be named ambassador to a desert island.
Kevin Flaherty: "We'll make a politician of you yet."—Harriet Smith: "That's what I'm afraid of."
Harriet Smith (Pauline Collins, Bleak House), the British ambassador to Ireland, is a career foreign service official; she's raising two sons alone after her husband died in a car bombing apparently meant for her. Harriet is honest and ethical and can defuse almost any situation with a few gentle words. The only person she can't get along with is her oldest son, who blames her for his father's death. And one more thing: her knack for finding answers occasionally makes her seem more like Lt. Columbo than Henry Kissinger.
Obviously, this is a TV show: The Ambassador. Incidentally, the title on-screen is shortened to Ambassador for Series Two.
Facts of the Case
Both series of the BBC series are featured in the six-disc DVD release:
• "Refuge"—The British wife of a Saudi diplomat arrives at the embassy, seeking safe passage to England for herself and her son. Harriet's personal interest in the case jeopardizes Flaherty's negotiations to free Irish nurses jailed for drinking in Saudi Arabia. Harriet decides to take her youngest son, Sam, out of boarding school.
• "A Cluster of Betrayals"—A journalist friend of Harriet's ends up playing a role in a hostage negotiation when a distraught father takes over the embassy to protest his son's death, which he blames on British nuclear plant emissions. Talks don't go well—until Harriet steps in.
• "Playing God"—Harriet's mentor is about to publish a sensitive memoir…unless she can talk him out of it. Someone is planning a bombing, which could end the first series with a bang.
• "Vacant Possession"—A lone Irish man claims a piece of rock for Ireland and is arrested by the British, setting off conflict between the British and Irish. Deputy ambassador Steven Tyler (William Chubb, House of Cards) seeks a post in Chile.
• "Unholy Alliances"—A family's attempts to deprogram a cult member could endanger a Christian Unity service between Catholics and Protestants.
• "Getting Away With Murder"—Tyler has a row with his diabetic wife, and she's found dead the next morning from an insulin overdose. When the Garda tries to press a murder investigation, Tyler seeks diplomatic immunity, which could interfere with an extradition he's been handling.
I didn't quite believe The Ambassador, but Pauline Collins makes the show's exaggerated drama work as entertainment. It's fun to see a seemingly insoluble problem go away with either a few comforting words that show Harriet is concerned or her observation of a clue everyone else has overlooked that cuts to the truth of the matter, even if—or especially if—I don't believe that it's very realistic. The character of Harriet Smith seems a little too perfect, but Collins makes her concern for truth and people seem genuine.
Series One especially comes across as too pat, with Harriet running up against two blowhard males, Owen Roe's Kevin Flaherty and William Chubb's Steven Tyler, whom she will eventually count among her chief allies. Series Two fleshes out Tyler and gives Harriet a new colleague in Consul-General Catherine Grieve (Eve Matheson, May to December) to provide stronger foils for the perfect ambassador. There's an odd shift in Series Two for Denis Lawson; his John Stone, an MI-6 veteran who helps Harriet with the mystery end of the ambassador position, is mostly supportive and honest in Series One, but turns out to be a shadier character in Series Two. Series Two gives Harriet a romantic storyline which puts her honesty to the test as her career clashes with that of her boyfriend; this at least lets us know that Harriet's human. I thought Series Two was stronger, but wondered if the British audience might have preferred things a little less grounded in reality, since reality in the '90s still included tension in Northern Ireland.
The writing is strong throughout, even as the series relies on television cliches, but "Getting Away From Murder," which leaves the audience in the dark until the end about the guilt or innocence of a title character, turns out to be an especially effective mystery story.
The picture quality is mostly decent but I noticed some grain and a couple of ripples through the image. The only extras are text bios of Collins and Lawson and some trivia. Note that Lawson, who was in the original Star Wars is related to Ewan McGregor.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The Ambassador isn't bad, but it isn't particularly a must-see, either. Your enjoyment of the show will depend on your tolerance for the sort of easy resolutions it serves up.
The Ambassador is watchable and starts to actually get good in Series Two. However, I doubt I'll watch these DVDs again; I'd consider it for a Netflix or a rental, but not for purchase.
Guilty of unreality, but not bad entertainment.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: BFS Video
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