The Diplomat review: Keri Russell leads Netflix's smart political thriller

Kate Wyler (Keri Russell) in The Diplomat (Netflix)
Kate Wyler (Keri Russell) in The Diplomat (Netflix)
  • 📺 Where to watch: Netflix from 20 April

  • ⭐️ Our rating: 4/5

  • 🍿 Watch it if you liked: The West Wing, Homeland, Veep

  • 🎭 Who's in it?: Keri Russell, Rufus Sewell, Rory Kinnear, Michael McKean 

  • How long is it? 8 x 1 hour episodes

  • 📖 What's it about? In the midst of an international crisis, a career diplomat lands in a high-profile job she’s unsuited for, with tectonic implications for her marriage and her political future.

Kate Wyler (Keri Russell) is The Diplomat with more than most on her plate, when a new political drama launches on Netflix from 20 April. As this international negotiator charms the savvy, cajoles the cagey, and avoids global conflict when catastrophe coming calling.

With an Emmy-nominated writer in Deborah Cahn (The West Wing), and an embarrassment of top-drawer talent populating this world, The Diplomat introduces Hal (Rufus Sewell) and Kate Wyler minutes in.

Read more: New on Netflix in April

A television news report is outlining facts on an attack in the Persian Gulf, involving British military personnel. As details pour in, and Hal watches his wife pack for her departure to Middle Eastern waters his phone rings and plans change.

Austin Dennison (David Gyasi) in The Diplomat (Netflix)
Austin Dennison (David Gyasi) in The Diplomat. (Netflix)

Kate is now to be appointed US ambassador in London with immediate effect, which starts the ball rolling on a cavalcade of introductions, as The Diplomat unpacks its intricate plot and quickly defines a ream of complex relationships.

Between the concisely polished dialogue, politically astute storytelling, and world building elements audiences are effectively introduced to key players early on. From chief of staff Billie Appiah (Nana Mensah) through to secretary of state Miguel Ganon (Miguel Sandoval), before finally dropping in on president Rayburn (Michael McKean).

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At the centre of this maelstrom is Keri Russell on charismatic form as Kate, either engaged in intellectual guessing games with her conniving husband Hal, or firefighting culture clash diplomacy from the British government.

With the added element of a livewire in prime minister Trowbridge (Rory Kinnear), a coldly detached foreign secretary in Austin Dennison (David Gyasi), and a sceptical CIA agent in Eidra Graham (Ali Ahn) — they prove to be dangerous diplomatic waters.

Billie Appiah (Nana Mensah)  in The Diplomat (Netflix)
Billie Appiah (Nana Mensah) in The Diplomat (Netflix)

What becomes immediately apparent is how comfortable Deborah Cahn is in this environment, spinning sub-plots from thin air, lacing relationships with opportunities for betrayal, while offsetting anything to heavy with situation comedy.

Beyond the political back biting, underhanded subterfuge, and face saving press exercises – The Diplomat works because there is humanity holding it together.

Personal and professional interests constantly interfere with decision making, while the lives of those on board that stricken vessel are often secondary to whether or not world leaders should really be left alone to talk.

The Diplomat is also constantly pointing out how unstable regimes really are and how little people in power really know.

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Politics, like many things in this life, are defined by compromise and settled through negotiations, where each party potentially walks away with an equal share. Similar in some ways to Armando Iannucci’s Veep or The Thick of It, this world is both deadly serious yet comedically off-kilter, as agendas impact every decision people make.

Miguel Ganon (Miguel Sandoval) and Nicol Trowbridge (Rory Kinnear) in The Diplomat (Netflix)
Miguel Ganon (Miguel Sandoval) and Nicol Trowbridge (Rory Kinnear) in The Diplomat (Netflix)

However, what The Diplomat does is also touch on contemporary political situations amongst the convoluted double-dealing. Russia and Ukraine get mentioned, while prime minister Trowbridge and president Rayburn mirror certain other aspects without resorting to caricature. They both prove to be low grade loose cannons, who are kept on track by those around them through luck as much as judgement.

Read more: New on Prime Video in April

With unexpected abductions, some Middle Eastern interactions, and an off-script domestic squabble between cohabiting ambassadors amongst manicured woodlands – The Diplomat is constantly mixing things up and delivering a diverting slice of political intrigue into the bargain.

It negotiates the awkward waters of politics within a contemporary scenario, and also eloquently voices relevant concerns through character, which might encourage audiences to go back and re-evaluate The West Wing once again.

Hal Wyler (Rufus Sewell)  and Kate Wyler (Keri Russell) in The Diplomat (Netflix)
Hal Wyler (Rufus Sewell) and Kate Wyler (Keri Russell) in The Diplomat (Netflix)

Unlike House of Cards — which originally featured Sir Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart, then Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood in the David Fincher reboot — The Diplomat is unconcerned with a single person and their pursuit of power, but rather how that power can be persuaded or circumvented through reasoned arguments. Which is why, in the main, this show exhibits a lightness of touch in depicting politics without resorting to satire.

What other critics thought of The Diplomat

The Hollywood Reporter: Keri Russell toplines Netflix’s smart and diverting political drama (7 min read)

The Telegraph: Homeland meets Emily in Paris – with a fair bit of Britain-bashing (3 min read)

Indiewire: Keri Russell’s slick Netflix series makes a meal out of political parlance (6 min read)

Variety: The Diplomat is not the second coming of The Americans (4 min read)

Key in selling that subterfuge, aside from the Golden Globe-winning Russell (The Americans) as Kate are those supporting players. Either having a ball as underhanded husband Hal, which Sewell appears to relish throughout, or embracing the buffoonery of high office as Trowbridge, which Kinnear does in scene stealing fashion.

Not to mention Ato Essandoh as Stuart Hayford, who brings a quiet tolerance and understated presence to the fray, which enriches and escalates this drama without grandstanding.

The Diplomat is a solid choice for fans of The West Wing proving that Netflix is still capable of making an Emmy-contender when they put their mind to it.

The Diplomat is available to stream on Netflix from 20 April.