In the 1970's it was widely regarded that Britain put out the most consistently innovative and entertaining television. Then, in the 80's, the whole thing began to unravel bit by bit. Action drama was all but dead, sitcoms had lost their way and British movies and shows were either flashy, vacuous stuff or leaden paced and tedious. "Rules of Engagement" is definitely the latter.
The political conspiracy thriller was all the rage in Britain in the 80's. You had "Threads" (an anti-Thatcherite post apocalyptic drama), "Edge of Darkness" (an anti-Thatcherite nuclear power drama), "Harry's Game" (anti-Thatcherite Northern Ireland drama), "A Very British Coup" (anti-American and by way of that, anti-Thatcherite as well), "Between the Lines" (anti-Police and natch, anti-Thatcher), "Defence of the Realm" (yep, you guessed it) and this.
The mini-series was supposedly set on the eve of WW3, although this is left vague. There's some national disaster which needs martial law and state of emergency powers in...erm, Portsmouth but we rarely see troop movements, people talking in shops, bars, pubs, offices about the crisis. In fact, you rarely see anyone outside of the main characters, not even extras. Kenneth Cranham plays the government minister put in charge of handling the emergency and for such a good actor, he's totally unconvincing in the part. He gets interviewed on the television, supposedly to calm people's fears and yet his delivery is so stock shifty politician/villain with eye rolling, slow and sinister speech and shifting continually in his seat that you don't buy anything he says.
Then there's the "romantic" sub-plot between Karl Johnson and Cathy Tyson. In all this "world crisis", they just amble around trying to find each other and look nervous. It's a shame because Tyson went from being in "Mona Lisa" and stardom to "oh yeah, whatever happened to her?" after this. The pace of this drama was turgid, and they tried to make it look like a top draw conspiracy drama by having a cut to credits title card of the main actors done up like chess pieces moving across a board...only this was a match that went on for 6 weeks and ended in a tame draw.
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