What to watch: Secret City

5:08 pm on 4 March 2024
A still image from Netflix series Secret City, starring Anna Torv.

Secret City stars Anna Torv as political journalist Harriet Dunkley. Photo: Screenshot

Not sure what to watch tonight? Join us as we dig deep into the streamers' catalogues for shows worth your time. This week's watch: Secret City.

Secret City is one of the first Netflix acquisitions from outside the US, originally screening in mid-2016. The opening credits (and piano-driven theme music) seem to have been cribbed shamelessly from Netflix's first original series, 2013's House of Cards.

Like that show, the setting is also a capital city. Sleepy old Canberra is the scene of political and diplomatic shenanigans including murder, cover-ups, double-crosses and double agents. Anna Torv plays political journalist Harriet Dunkley, no longer the top dog in her paper's parliamentary press gallery. She blew a story about mismanaged mining union pension funds and desperately needs a scoop.

A still image from Netflix series Secret City, starring Eugenia Yuan and Dan Wyllie

Eugenia Yuan and Dan Wyllie in a scene from Netflix series Secret City. Photo: Screenshot

When she sees a body being pulled out of Lake Burley Griffin, Dunkley starts unravelling a yarn involving the Labor government at war with itself over fraught relationships with China and the US, a multitude of Australian intelligence and security acronyms fighting for turf, and Chinese dissidents under cover of the Australian National University Music School.

There's an awful lot of plot (the show was inspired by three different novels), but there is also some decent atmosphere and time for Dunkley to get personally involved with some of her sources.

There's a second season, which tells a different but connected story, and I'm still keen on the characters and setting, even if it might be another seven years before I go back to it.

Is it worth a watch?

Story: 3.5/5 (no cliffhanger)

Production: 3.5/5 (looks good but budget limitations show after a while)

Bingeability: 4.5/5 (only six episodes, we knocked it off in two nights)

If I liked this one, what shall I watch next?

The Diplomat (fanciful high drama behind the scenes of modern international relations)

Occupied (diplomatic drama, with a side helping of beautiful mid-century furniture and striking modern civic architecture)

Utopia (the Australian government operating at maximum incompetency and factional political warfare).

Secret City is currently streaming on Netflix.