Tue. Jan 18th, 2022

What a difference a week makes. A few days after we saw her as a self-sacrificing, justice-seeking Hillsborough campaigner in ITVs Anne, Maxine Peake makes a quick return in the #MeToo era thriller Game rules, starring as Sam, a ruthless, self-serving executive who is complicit in her company’s cover-up of allegations of sexual harassment.

As the COO of a Lancashire-based sportswear brand, Fly Dynamic, Sam – along with the Jenkins family who own the business – helped cultivate a toxic work environment so filled with gross misconduct and exploitation that it as a biohazard can be considered. The letters H and R, meanwhile, seem to have been removed almost entirely from the company’s alphabet, which consists mostly of NDA, and more recently, IPO.

With Fly set to go public, Sam gets the job of bringing in a new human resources director to provide the right “optics” and a layout of professionalism. Enter the serious, bright-eyed Maya (Rakhee Thakrar), who soon realizes that it will take more than ice cream carts and “pajama Fridays” on the premises to improve morale at a workplace where corporate culture once meant drugging teens and to take care of. female employees. After embarking on an unwelcome excavation of the past, Maya discovers that one of these women died at an office party 10 years earlier.

However, this is another death that hangs over the program from the beginning, the main narrative with a framework of Sam being questioned by the police after a suspected suicide at Fly HQ. But while the four-part series clearly seeks to build tension around the identity of the body (and possible killer), the mystery serves, counter-intuitively, to divert our attention and distance us from an already sufficiently disturbing story of workplace abuse and excuse.

Besides the free plot devices, Game rules gives an impactful and fairly damning look at the gap between companies’ public promises of transparency and their private lack of remorse over past failures and refusal to implement systemic change. This complicates the expected gender dynamics in a compelling way by establishing Sam and the Jenkins matriarch Anita (a trusted Alison Steadman) as unconstituted anti-progressives arranged by Maya’s conscientiousness – perhaps because it came too late for them.

But otherwise there is little nuance or complexity in the tight dialogue and characterizations – especially the male bosses are too cartoonishly sketched to meaningfully capture some of the more treacherous ways in which senior executives sometimes exploit and threaten staff. Too often, recognizable perversion and intimidation are disguised here by soap opera-like execution.

★★★ ☆☆

Starts 11 January at 21:00 on BBC1; all episodes on iPlayer thereafter

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