Rules of the Game, review: plenty of fun – and a furiously vaping Maxine Peake – in this mad MeToo thriller

A colleague described Rules of the Game as “HR noir”, and I can’t top that. It is billed as “a workplace drama inspired by the Harvey Weinstein scandal”, which sounds terribly po-faced. Actually, it’s a mad thriller in which Maxine Peake furiously vapes her way through each episode with a set of eyebrows that make her look like Cheshire’s answer to Cruella de Vil.

The tone is more Doctor Foster than searing exposé. It doesn’t have anything particularly clever to say about the #MeToo movement, but as a soapy whodunit set in the office of a fictional rival to JD Sport, it’s entertaining.

Peake stars as Sam Thompson, who has worked her way up to become the ruthless chief operating officer of Fly Dynamic. It’s otherwise a family concern, run by the smooth Owen (Ben Batt) with his layabout brother Gareth (Kieran Bew) nominally the chief financial officer. Their mother, Anita – Alison Steadman, taking no prisoners – keeps a beady eye on the business.

The toxic workplace culture is soon uncovered by new HR boss Maya (Rakhee Thakrar, really good here), who arrives from fancy London and attempts to ring some changes. Bad idea. She immediately makes an enemy of Sam. By episode two, they’re having a row in the car park where Sam slaps Maya in the face and throws a cat’s ashes all over her. I believe this may be an HR violation of some sort, but everyone carries on. It’s that sort of show.

The whodunit element involves both a dead body which Sam discovers splattered on the office foyer – and we don’t learn the identity of that person until much later – and the unexplained death of a young female employee a decade earlier. Writer Ruth Fowler chucks far too much into episode one, and at times you may find yourself wondering just what a particular character or plot line has to do with the price of fish. But stick with it, and everything becomes clear.

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