The Independent – Review of Murder in Samarkand 23

The only review I have seen of Murder in Samarkand on Radio 4 is from Chris Maume in The Independent. While he says some great things about the play:

The terrific Murder in Samarkand

David Hare’s superbly brisk, no-nonsense script

[David Tennant]

put in a fantastic performance

I really don’t agree with his balancing criticisms of David Tennant – I think David pulled off the huge emotional range required brilliantly.

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23 thoughts on “The Independent – Review of Murder in Samarkand

  • geomannie


    There is a reasonably long review in today’s Sunday Herald which I can’t find online. Generally very favourable but with caveats. A couple of extracts-

    “But Hare knows his trade well enough. This was no leaden polemic. Far from it. The playwright leavened the message with drama and gave Murray a wry authorial voice into the bargain. And of course with David Tennant in the lead he had an actor of considerable quality on his side.”

    “Still, cinema’s loss was very definately radio’s gain”.

    I can scan and email the whole review to you if I knew which email to use.


  • Craig


    [email protected]

    Yes – Tavish Scott did a review of the book in the Herald around Christmas, and that’s not available online either.

    I think the Herald is the best paper at the minute

  • pete

    “I think the Herald is the best paper at the minute”

    I’d agree.

    A few of us are going to write to The Independent’s sponsors to see if they can get them to stop advocating torture. Here’s a preliminary list of em:

    Acorn Stairlifts ?” 15 Feb, p. 23

    Alliance & Leicester ?” 19 Feb, p. 25

    Audi ?” 15 Feb, p. 4

    Aviva Insurance ?” 15 Feb, p. 3 & 19 & Sport p. 15

    British Gas ?” 15 Feb, p. 6 & 23

    BT ?” 19 Feb, p. 9 & 17

    Carbon Trust ?” 15 Feb, p. 39; 19 Feb, p. 22

    Children’s Workforce Development Council ?” 15 Feb, p. 12

    Citroen ?” 15 Feb, p. 11

    Currys ?” 19 Feb, p. 15

    Directline ?” 15 Feb, p. 23 & Sport p. 4 & 7 & 16

    Dulux ?” 19 Feb, p. 19

    Emirates airline ?” 15 Feb, p. 17

    Fiat ?” 19 Feb, p. 10

    Green Flag ?” 15 Feb, Sport p. 8; 19 Feb, p. 56

    Halfords ?” 19 Feb, p. 26

    Halifax ?” 15 Feb, p. 8 & 19

    HMV ?” 19 Feb, p. 21 & ArtsFilmMusic, p. 10

    HSBC ?” 15 Feb, p. 14 & 15

    Jessops ?” 19 Feb, 8 ?” 19 Feb, p. 34

    Lloyds TSB ?” 19 Feb, p. 3 & 4-page insert

    Magnet kitchens ?” 19 Feb, p. 16

    Morrisons – 19 Feb, p. 7

    Multiple Sclerosis Society ?” 15 Feb, p. 19

    NatWest ?” 15 Feb, p. 10

    Nestle ?” 15 Feb, p. 22

    Nokia ?” 19 Feb, p. 20

    O2 ?” 15 Feb, p. 7

    Orange ?” 15 Feb, p. 48 ?” 19 Feb, p. 28

    Saab, 19 Feb, p. 14

    Seat ?” 19 Feb, p. 59

    Smile Train ?” 19 Feb, p. 29

    Staples ?” 15 Feb, p. 18

    Teaching Development Agency (TDA) ?” 15 Feb, p. 20

    Unicef ?” 19 Feb, p. 24

    Virgin Media ?” 15 Feb, p. 9

    Volkswagen ?” 19 Feb, p. 6

    Wickes ?” 19 Feb, p. 4

    Wolf Blass vineyard ?” 19 Feb, p. 60

    Wychwood Festival ?” 15 Feb, p. 24

    More details at MLMB:

  • Polo

    Play was great. Captured the book very well.

    I had never heard of David Tennant (my last Dr. Who was Worzel Gummidge) so that was no distraction. The stronger Scots accent was great and I think, contrary to Maume’s insinuation, captured Craig’s attachment to his Scottish background.

    Scriptwriter also resisted the temptation to overpack the action (I too would have loved a Clare Short vs Karimov module but it would have distracted from a very crisp script).

    Great radio.

  • geomannie


    Your email bounces back. Here is a copy of the test as extracted by OCR so there may be some error’s.


    The tale of our man in Uzbekistan RADIO REVIEW BY BARRY DIDCOCK

    My name is Craig Murray. I used to be a diplomat” So begins Murder In Samarkand (BBC Radio 4, Saturday, 2.30pm), David Hare’s adaptation of Murray’s memoir about his time as British ambassador to Uzbekistan between 2002 and 2004.

    Murray was recalled after complaining about human rights abuses in a country seen as an ally in the so-called War On Terror. The case is well known. Hare, whose 2006 play The Vertical Hour examined the build-up to the Iraq War, put the detail on the story in this gripping Saturday Play.

    Murray arrived in Tashkent with a wife, two kids, 16 suitcases and the words of a plummy Foreign Office functionary still puzzling him. “Certain countries,” the man told him, “have always seemed distant, smudgy, out of focus. Nobody cared about them. They were a long way away. Now, all at once, they’re becoming more interesting.” Uzbekistan used to be one of those countries. Now, though, the “context” has changed. Uzbekistan was “interesting”.

    Mostly Hare’s dialogue was fast and nimble, though there were a few gauche moments over the course of its 90 minutes. “Here in Uzbekistan we try only the guilty,” said a sinister lackey at one point, sounding for all the world like a Bond baddie.

    Other times, the dialogue veered into knotty, Ken Loach territory. Chinwagging with the US ambassador after a tetchy IMF meeting, Hare had Murray discuss realpolitik, the perils of sharia law and the techniques of dictatorship almost without stopping for breath. Later, in a speech delivered to a group of diplomats and high-ranking Uzbeks, he moved on to geopolitics. It was here that he first mentioned the War On Terror and its use as a hammer to level all political or religious contrariness.

    But Hare knows his trade well enough. This was no leaden polemic. Far from it. The playwright leavened the message with drama and gave Murray a wry authorial voice into the bargain. And, of course, with David Tennant in the lead, he had an actor of considerable quality on his side.

    But if the political animal in Hare was attracted to the subject matter, the dramatist in him recognised a fascinating protagonist, too. “I’m far too flawed to be a hero,” Murray admitted at the outset, and he was right. He drank too much and had an eye for the girls. His wife described him as a sociopath during one row. When he fell in love with a local dancer called Nadira he knew his sham marriage was finally over.

    All this was surely part of the appeal for filmmaker Michael Winterbottom as well. He was originally going to make Hare’s play into a film with Steve Coogan as Murray. Still, cinema’s loss was very definitely radio’s gain.

  • anno

    I listened to the play on my mobile’s radio while browsing books in Hay-on Wye.

    Which I will never forget. The total hysteria of senior officials in the Foreign Office, when Craig begins to open the can of worms; the avuncular US Ambassador who has seen everything before except a British Ambassador who refuses to be a vicar’s poodle, and starts to bite.

    The play reminded me of those millions of books put outside under a tarpaulin to be glanced at fleetingly, and I felt a huge sense of frustration when Gordon Brown popped one of his happy pills and started goo-ing to the electorate on TV next day. Will they ever admit their complicity in torture? What will they say when their book of deeds is pressed into their left hand on the day of Judgement. ” What kind of book is this, it doesn’t leave anything out, from the great (sins) to the small ones?”

    I guarantee that this play, even if it does not get New Labour sitting in sackcloth and ashes and repenting, will be used in evidence against them on That Day, that they had been informed of the enormity of the crimes for which they were about to be sentenced to hell, and had declined to change their ways.

    I found the play brilliant in every way, in its succinctness and its performance and in its inspiration from Craig.

  • Nick Kotarski

    I enjoyed the play immensely, I know that sounds odd considering what it was that you found and the consequences, but I did.

    I remember the day that you appeared on Today very clearly.


  • Chris Dooley

    You may be glad to hear that Murder In Samarkand is the 2nd most favorite item being played on the Radio 4 iPlayer site.

    I bet it will be top before the week’s run on the player is out.

  • gulliver

    I’ve been reflecting on the issues this play unearths since I heard it – the stamp, i’d suggest, of a good play.

    The Independent review surpasses ‘trite’. Non-committal garbage. The article writer faffs around on accent and thereby evades substantive comment.

    From Murray and Hare we’ve had a few of the butterfly wings. This isn’t chaos stuff though. This is simply amplification. The orchard was chopped down. The IMF were lying. The guy was boiled and beaten to death. His brother aws killed outright. ‘Our’ intelligence rested on the testimony of those driven insane prior to dispatch. Such practice drove servants of the Embassy loop-de-la.

    Were troops acting on orders based on such dross?

    I don’t get it. Then again, I don’t get boiling a man alive or slashing a man’s bollocks.

  • AJ

    Loved the play and fwiw I think you are incredibly brave. For whatever you lost in the process I truly hope you found something even greater in return.

    Were the foreign office officials really as idiotic as they were portrayed in the play?

  • Caz

    I was utterly enthralled – by the story, by the words and by the acting. Thank you, Craig, for speaking up about these horrors and to everyone else involved with the play for reminding us just what passes for ‘justice’ in some parts of the world.

    Tennant-bashing seems to be rather the ‘in-thing’ in some areas of the British media right now. But he did the story – and you – more than justice.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Oddly, I thought that David Tennant, in accent and delivery, at times sounded a little like James Naughtie, you know that slightly congested sinus thing which becomes exaggerated on the radio – which was another slightly surreal thing, but of course Tennant does sound like that in real life as well (as does Naughtie).

    The joi de vivre, in my view, was part of the contrapuntal attractiveness of the character – this was no ‘Gregory Peck’ character, much more Montgomery Clift/ Lawrence Harvey, hero tortured by internal (and then external) demons – in this schema, Jack Straw of course being the Prince of Hell.

    Re. The ‘Scottish’ thing: this was DRAMA not documentary. Drama demands dynamics other than naturalism. The Indie critic ought to have known that. The essence was an internal Scottishness and it also set the protagonist apart – in social class and psycho-linguistic terms – from the plummy Foreign Office mandarins (and from his wife), given that we couldn’t see him. The anti-syzygy and all that.

  • david smart

    Jack Straw is a clever and devious man. I saw him in action at the Blackburn election when I worked for Murray. Alas there was no confrontation. The only meeting of all candidates was in Blackburn Cathedral. Murray was excluded and Straw made no protest. I think certainly Murray must have harmed among the communityhimself by his behaviour with Madira. That was inevitable. However, Murray claimed at the time- and probably still does- that Straw and the Labour Party have got their support from local muslims by local party machinations and bribery with council housing pledges and manipulations. I could not verify this in the short time I was there, but Murray was convinced about this.

    Straw should be indicted for his behaviour on the Iraq war issue when, in my opinion, he lied over and over again. I am thinking of his appearances on the Today programme prior to the war.

    Will Murray stand again against Straw. I hope he will but do not know. Certainly this man should be exposed but I fear he will get away with it as the establishment does not want to be put in the dock and has the means to prevent this. In the historical perspective, he- with Blair- will be revealed as clever and immoral manipulators of our inadequate political and legal system.It is just a shame they cannot be put on trial here and now as they deserve to be.

  • MJ

    I take your point Suhayl but I had reservations about Tennant’s performance for pretty much the same reasons that you approved of it.

    To me he just sounded a little too young and green, as though he had been thrown into something he was ill-equipped and too inexperienced to deal with. Had he sounded a little more plummy and ambassadorial perhaps his subsequent actions and revelations would have appeared all the more shocking and noteworthy.

    My fear is that in playing Craig the way he did, Tennant may have unwittingly led a neutral listener unconsciously to conclude that it was Craig rather than the system that was ultimately to blame.

  • john

    I have just listened to “Murder in Samarkand” and am amazed at the honesty and guts of Craig Murray. If the play reflects the man and his experiences authentically, then we have an exceptionally courageous and potentially ethical leader.

    I believe that, not all Scots mix well together, but I have the same faith in George Galloway, who also puts himself in the way of British hypocrisy and deserves due praise.

    In a very much smaller way, I have experienced the covertly impeding influence of the British Establishment–and am convinced that, many good people are unwittingly vetted in their careers by the hidden panel of “governors”.

    Especial “Good luck” to Craig in any political connection. I am sure that, he will have much genuine support, despite the arsenal of dirty tricks, which, the British elitist Establishment will set against him, before they attempt to buy his soul.

    In the meantime, I shall buy his book to keep bread on his table.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Yes, John, actually you’re right about the vetting, at least in some spheres. One surprising one recently was the construction industry, where a blacklist was being kept of workers; if someone pointed out a health and safety issue (the construction industry is still where most deaths at work from accidents occurs in the UK), or if they were a union person, they find themselves blacklisted and would not be able to get work, regardless of their competancy level. Somewhat unsually, the Information Commissioner doggedly helped to expose this scandal. The Christmas Tree files at the BBC was another such scandal.

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