Burn Up is an entertaining, yet thought-provoking two-part drama exploring the corruption and hypocrisy of the oil industry, rather like The Sopranos did for the Mafia, and Mad Men for the tobacco industry. This cross-Atlantic collaboration sees Rupert Penry Jones as Tom McConnell, the almost unbelievably principled head of Arrow Oil Company; who finds himself the target of demonstrations by a Canadian Inuit whose land is being destroyed by an Arrow-owned oil field.
As her protests escalate in extremity, he is forced to concede that the evidence of global warming caused by oil is irrefutable. McConnell and Arrow’s green advisor, Holly (Neve Campbell), travel to Canada to see it for themselves; although it seemed more an excuse to have the impossibly good-looking pair shut up in a cabin on the ice miles away from anywhere with only a log fire to keep them warm - and predictably, they found another way to keep snug.
Another impossibly good-looking character is the droll, sarcastic, terrier-like environment minister to the Prime Minister, Philip Crowley, played by Marc Warren. On learning that his Chiswick home could be underwater in as little as five years time, like a small dog he digs his teeth into trying to persuade America to sign up to the Kyoto Treaty; as well as trying to link the murder of six researchers on an oil field in Saudi Arabia - the seventh of which escaped and fled to Britain, seeking out McConnell’s now retired predecessor at Arrow. He also has the best and most amusing lines in the entire programme, mainly because they are all so relevant and true to today’s climate.
Faced with the evidence born of science and experience, McConnell tries to persuade Arrow to invest in renewable energy, but comes up against a wall of hostility from the board members. The thought that a company raking in billions of profit an hour and yet cannot spare £2billion towards renewable energy is frightening, absurd, and yet probably true in reality.
I had expected to dislike Penry Jones’ character, imagining him to be an arrogant oil tycoon with £ signs for eyes, but far from it. When his young daughter had an asthma attack at a party for his work colleagues he would have been far happier to sit with her after the initial panic than go back to the party, even though she was sound asleep in bed; however his ambitious, power-hungry wife persuaded him to rejoin the soiree and get the dancing started. He cried while watching a DVD recorded for him by the Inuit girl, Mika, a subtle yet impassioned performance by Sandrine Holt.
The Americans are portrayed as singular, selfish, conniving men who have spent too long under the power of the black gold; but then, aside from McConnell, so are the English members of the Arrow board. As well as the green argument, the benefits of oil are extolled, but not to such an extent, and are only there to shed light on the selfishness of humanity for caring more about petrol and cheap flights to New York than the fate of the Earth.
Having watched both this and WALL-E in one day, it was only too easy to wonder with grim foreboding just what the future will bring for human beings. All of the children watching WALL-E in 2008 will be the ones who will have to deal with the issues explored in Burn Up forty years down the line.