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Binge-worthy but bewildering: Baroness Meyer reviews 'The Diplomat'

Keri Russell as ambassador Kate Wyler | Image courtesy of Alex Bailey/Netflix

Baroness Meyer

Baroness Meyer

3 min read

Despite its unrealistic plot, Netflix’s new eight-part thriller series is rescued by its high production values and class acting

If you want to know what it’s like being an ambassador – or indeed an ambassador’s wife – this series won’t tell you. 

Netflix describes its new political thriller The Diplomat as “cerebral” – not the adjective I would use. “Wordy” would be a better one. The action moves from endless dialogue set in the grand corridors of Winfield House, the official residence of the United States ambassador to the United Kingdom, to the US Embassy and the Foreign Office, but at least providing us with a glimpse of some of London’s most impressive interiors and giving us a decent binge watch into the bargain. 

It begins with a British aircraft carrier being blown up in the Middle East, causing many fatalities and fuelling tensions between the UK, the US, and Iran – which is suspected of carrying out the attack. 

Kate Wyler, a career-diplomat, is appointed US ambassador to the Court of St James. Despite constraining protocol, and frustrating bureaucracy, she manages – practically single-handedly – to avert global disaster. 

The eight episodes are filled with political intrigue, kidnappings, poisoning, funerals, and enough geopolitical crises to keep you hooked. 

The plot itself is bewildering as it tries to incorporate a broad range of world events, such as the UK/US “special relationship”, the Taliban’s role in Afghanistan, growing tensions with Iran, China, and Russia. It even mentions the war in Ukraine, Northern Ireland, and the possibility of a second Scottish independence referendum. Deborah Cahn, the creator and script writer, has tried to capture more political situations than would fill most ambassadors’ terms of office.

This popularisation is irritating. Foul language doesn’t make the plot more plausible

The Diplomat has it all: political analysis and insights into how the foreign services go about their business against a background of frivolous relationships – too many characters having too many affairs. 

This popularisation is irritating. Foul language doesn’t make the plot more plausible. Then, the notion that an American ambassador would be impertinent to the president of the United States is highly unlikely. No-one is more deferential to power and respectful of hierarchy than an American diplomat and civil servant. The heroine’s deshelled hair and refusal to adopt the conventional dress code is obviously designed to make the series popular to the younger viewer. I have never met a US ambassador, let alone US diplomat who would present himself or herself in this way. To them, it is an honour, even if they were not prepared for the job. The truth is that that the portrayal of the ambassador in The Diplomat bears little resemblance to reality.

Nevertheless, high production values, class acting and a strong narrative keep the drama rolling along. Rufus Sewell, as the ambassador’s “wife” is predictably resentful and competitive. The couple are intrinsically co-dependent, but self-destructive.

As a former senior US diplomat Lewis Lukens commented: “A show that was actually really accurate about life in an embassy would probably be pretty boring.”

Baroness Meyer is a Conservative peer and wife of the late Sir Christopher Meyer, the longest-serving British ambassador to the United States since the Second World War

The Diplomat
Creator & executive producer: Debora Cahn
Broadcaster: Netflix

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