Rules of the Game evaluation: Maxine Peake drama fails to capture the nuance of abusive workplaces

Have we achieved peak Peake? Over on ITV, Maxine Peake has been doing delicate, heartbreaking work as a grieving Hillsborough mom in the worthwhile if tough-going Anne. Now, finishing the Twin Peakes, she pops up on the BBC to star in Rules of the Game, a four-episode drama about an abusive office. I suppose we might name it an HR procedural.

It is a much less clearly sympathetic half. She is Sam Thompson, a lifer at Fly Dynamic, a fictitious family-run sportswear agency in the north that the legal professionals would little doubt insist bears not even a passing relation to Sports Direct. (The author, Ruth Fowler, has mentioned she was impressed by the Harvey Weinstein case.) Sam is an enforcer, hardened by battle, allergic to nonsense and protecting of the senior males. The firm is getting ready to go public, or “go public and float on the stock exchange”, in its personal most well-liked tautology. The IPO, with its attendant scrutiny from bankers, legal professionals and journalists, means the agency can not afford even a whiff of scandal. As half of this drive, she has employed a brand new HR director, Maya Benshaw (Rakhee Thakrar). Maya is delicate, considerate and up to date with the newest jargon, a dollop of Guardian in a Sun porridge.

She has her work lower out. Fly Dynamic is riddled with scandal. As workplaces go, it’s roughly as progressive and egalitarian as the Roman Army. The enterprise is now run collectively by the founder’s laddy sons, Owen (Ben Batt) and Gareth Jenkins (Kieran Bew). Owen is slicker, Gareth extra teddy-bearish, however they share an affinity for booze and ladies. It isn’t lengthy earlier than Maya can hardly have a dialog with an worker with out them alluding to darkish secrets and techniques. Troubled Tess (Callie Cooke) is caught having intercourse in the boardroom however explains that she will be able to’t be sacked as a result of she is aware of an excessive amount of. Oh, and don’t overlook the corpses. In the opening scene, somebody has been discovered lifeless in the atrium, ostensibly having fallen from a excessive flooring. Ten years earlier, a younger feminine worker, Amy, additionally died, ostensibly of a drug overdose. In alternating timelines, we comply with the police enquiry alongside Maya’s journey of discovery into what’s happening at the agency. She has her personal issues to fear about, too, in the kind of an abusive ex.

Peake holds Rules of the Game collectively. Sam is just not as resilient as she appears and is clearly harbouring secrets and techniques of her personal. Peake does what she will be able to to show the battle of a lady who’s proud to have made her personal manner up the enterprise, however is just not blind to the wrongs. There can be a implausible supporting flip from Alison Steadman as the Jenkins household matriarch, Anita, Owen and Gareth’s mom and the widow of the founder, Harry. She is a flint-eyed Thatcherite grand dame, the actual drive in the enterprise.

But too typically, the script and performances have all the subtlety of a boss’ hand up a skirt at the Christmas do. Owen’s spouse, Vanessa, a Botox-injecting glamourpuss, typically appears to have wandered in off one other programme. Footballers’ Wives, maybe. In this black and white world, the males are all villains, and all the girls are victims, even those that have helped enabled the abuse and guarded the abusers. Workplace harassment is extra nuanced and pernicious than that. There’s no scarcity of drama about workplace politics, particularly if we take a broader view of what we expect of as a office: there’s Mad Men, or The Sopranos. HBO’s Industry hinged on HR procedures in a extra particular and believable manner, displaying how guidelines designed to shield workers may be weaponised and manipulated. In Rules of the Game, the misdeeds and dynamics are clunkingly apparent.

“How are you finding us,” Owen asks Maya, having poured her a stiff drink in the workplace. “Are we a lost cause?” The reply is “yes, obviously”. It doesn’t make her job any simpler, however it lowers the stakes of the drama. This sport’s over earlier than it began.

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