Set in a not-too-distant, indeed uncomfortably close, future The Undeclared War looks at the dangers of cyber warfare as operatives at the UK’s GCHQ battle an anonymous threat to the country’s IT infrastructure. With key systems compromised, the country is all but brought to its knees, until a smart young intern finds something in the hackers’ code that saves the day.


But that’s just the beginning, as she becomes embroiled in a dangerous game with players at the highest levels of power. Is it a game? Or is it war?

Writer/director Peter Kosminsky perhaps had his work cut out to make cyber code-breaking interesting to watch, but he does so with some nifty visual devices – namely going inside young Saara’s head as she follows clues and unlocks doors. He’s also helped by fantastic casting (including newcomer Hannah Khalique Brown as Saara, and heavyweights Simon Pegg, Adrian Lester and Mark Rylance) and a very good original score by Debbie Wiseman.

Wiseman and Kosminsky have enjoyed a long collaboration, which has included the brilliant Wolf Hall, The Promise, The State and Warriors and they always create engrossing drama for the viewer and the listener.

For The Undeclared War Debbie Wiseman assembled her own puzzle of a score. Her music features a 30-strong National Symphony Orchestra and Wiseman herself on piano, plus she uses accents of unusual synthetic sounds here and there. It’s a heady mix which beautifully underscores the serious and rather sterile world of GCHQ and the unravelling emotional drama. Wiseman’s piano plays a big part in that emotion, but the composer also brings in another element to the show’s score which makes it really stand out… a Russian folk song.

What's the song that features in The Undeclared War?

Here and there, and increasingly so throughout the series, you’ll hear the Russian folk song ‘Under a Willow’, which was adapted and arranged by the composer for the score. Peter Kosminsky selected the tune, which in its original form is deeply haunting with a heart of fire. Wiseman worked with London-based singers Evelyn Bates and Violet Verigo to bring the tune to life, and it gives The Undeclared War something of a brooding, beautiful and amibiguous energy. The singers also provide wordless vocal accompaniment to other sections of the score, which otherwise features strings, percussion and harp.


The Undeclared War is on Channel 4 on Thursday nights at 9pm, or you can watch the whole series on All4.


Michael BeekReviews Editor, BBC Music Magazine

Michael is the Reviews Editor of BBC Music Magazine. He was previously a freelance film music journalist and spent 15 years at St George's Bristol. Michael specialises in film and television music and was the Editor of He has written for the BBC Proms, BBC Concert Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, Hollywood in Vienna and Silva Screen Records.