Rules of the Game's critics have missed a vital point

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  • Maxine Peake
    Maxine Peake
    English actress
Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

Rules of the Game spoilers follow.

BBC One's latest crime thriller Rules of the Game, created by Ruth Fowler and starring Maxine Peake, Rakhee Thakrar and Ben Batt – attempts to bring a new voice to a much-discussed topic – the #MeToo movement. The show has divided opinion – but one aspect seems to be missing.

The drama begins when a body is found in the reception of a family-run business, Fly Dynamic. Through the course of the investigation, the viewer is taken back to when Maya (Rakhee Thakrar), a strong-willed HR director, joins the company and uncovers a history of embedded misogyny. In particular, we follow Sam (Maxine Peake), the COO who attempts to reconcile horrifying past truths with the future of the company.

Some critics of the show have complained it lacks the nuance to tackle such an immense subject of misogyny in the workplace. As The Independent criticised: "in this black and white world, the men are all villains, and all the women are victims…"

Meanwhile, reactions on social media ranged from complaints about a lack of believability to the inherent issue that none of the characters were likeable enough to root for.

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

It can be conceded that at times there were some 'on-the-nose' moments – one example was when Carys (Katherine Pearce), the wife of one of Fly Dynamic's owners, Gareth (Kieran Bew), discovers his password is 'password' and immediately stumbles upon his collection of graphic porn. This does seem a somewhat unlikely scenario, but this scene and others like it seemed to tell a metaphorical story – that men do not have to think or worry about culpability.

Perhaps what the show tackles best is moving the conversation on from how women were treated in the era before #MeToo, and on to how companies have adapted their models to fit around that narrative. One stand-out moment in episode two is when Owen (Ben Batt), Gareth's brother and joint owner, tasks Sam with speaking to Maya about her increasing accusations of misogyny. When asked why, he replies: "You talk to her, I'm a man."

This idea of workplaces adapting to overcome increasing social pressure around tackling sexism is also shown through Tess' storyline. The previous HR director Hugh was removed from his post after his harassment and sexual misconduct against employee Tess came out. In order to keep both Tess and Hugh quiet and happy, Hugh was kept well in money, and Tess was financially and emotionally blackmailed into complying.

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

As companies grow savvier to the feminist movement, they can manipulate situations to preserve company reputation (and men's behaviour). Although the end result of Maya's murder may be a slight exaggeration, it is allegorical for the wider culture around whistleblowers. In the end, the worth of the company is placed above the worth of multiple women's lives.

Most importantly, Rules of the Game valiantly tries to drive home that it's all interlinked with capitalism. An under-acknowledged theme running throughout the four episodes is how everything ties back to capitalism. Even Sam says in episode three, we're just "a tiny cog in the crushing machine of capitalism". It is made clear early on in amongst the financial jargon that the company is preparing for an IPO - for global distribution.

The uncovering of a misogyny scandal that has led to the death of one woman and destroyed the lives of others would put this at risk. The viewer is forced to confront that, had it not been for the risk to reputation (and subsequently capital), would they have even addressed any of these issues in the first place?

Photo credit: BBC
Photo credit: BBC

In fact, the majority of conversations, particularly those involving men, come back to the future success of the company over the emotional harm to the women involved. The intrinsic link between capitalism and patriarchy cannot be ignored whilst watching this show.

As the show winds down, we see one final nail in the capitalist coffin. After the scandal is broken, we return to Sam who is speaking to a room of (majority white) men. She talks about the companies financial recovery and, more importantly, how their (performative) action of having female athletes speak out on violence against women sold them a lot of sports bras. She's met with a room of applause.

The viewer is left to wonder, in the post #MeToo age, have companies actually confronted anything - or just found new ways to commit the same offences?

Rules of the Game airs Tuesday, January 11 at 9pm on BBC One. The full box set will also be available on BBC iPlayer.

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