Set in the heart of government during a major crisis, COBRA hurls viewers into the corridors of power and straight into the eye of the storm. But while it is fiction, it's not unrealistic, say lead stars Robert Carlyle and Victoria Hamilton. Gemma Dunn finds out more.

Ever wondered what happens in the corridors of power during a time of national emergency?

We're about to find out, as Sky One's latest original series, COBRA, takes viewers behind the scenes.

Starring Robert Carlyle as Prime Minister Robert Sutherland and Victoria Hamilton as his Chief of Staff, Anna Marshall, the high-stakes six-part drama follows the COBRA committee - a team comprised of leading experts, contingency planners and senior politicians who ensure the protection of the people of Great Britain - as they tackle a major crisis.

"We all know the word COBRA. Everyone says that's the emergency meeting..." states Hamilton, 48. "But that was the extent of my knowledge, having never been in one!

"It's exciting and shocking to think there's this group of people sitting around a table deciding what happens - experiencing what that must be like."

"I thought it was a snake!" Carlyle, 58, admits. "Most people, when I say I'm doing this show called COBRA, look at me as if, 'Why are you doing a show about a snake?' Like Snakes On A Plane!

"I didn't realise it happened," he says honestly. "When a national emergency is upon us, sometimes we don't know that these things are happening behind the scenes. They only tell you if the s*** really hits the fan!"

So legless reptiles aside, what else can the leading duo tell us about writer Ben Richards' high-action epic?


In this case the threat comes from a geomagnetic storm (also known as a solar storm), which, when it hits, threatens to throw the nation into total darkness. A scary prospect, no doubt.

It's the job of COBRA - which stands for Cabinet Office Briefing Room Assembly - to work around the clock in a bid to restore power and help bring society back from the brink of collapse.

"The fact of the matter is it's not science fiction - solar storms are an actual thing," reasons Carlyle. "This has happened before, about 100 years ago. It caused terrible trouble within the country back then and nowadays it would cause even more trouble because we're so dependent upon technology.

"A solar storm would wipe all of that out," warns the Trainspotting actor. "If all of that went away overnight - cell phones, the internet - imagine the trouble that we'd be in.

"It reminds you about the fragility of our species, our world, that it could be ripped apart in one night. I think that's something for people to think about."


At the helm is Sutherland, a charismatic leader driven by a desire to do what's right for his country.

"One of the things that interested me about the part is because he's different," Glasgow-born Carlyle offers. "He's not your usual Tory prime minister; he's trying his best to look at things from different angles. He's not old-fashioned in that respect."

As for Marshall, "She's described as the 'right light in a dirty world'," Hamilton remarks. "Even by people who are right in the middle of the viper's nest, she's described as someone that's annoyingly pure, which she isn't.

"But the vast majority of the time she's operating for what she regards as the greater good, rather than for personal advancement," she adds.

Do they get on well?

"They get on very well," Carlyle responds. "He needs her, there's no way he can survive without her.

"There's something very pure about this relationship," confirms London-born Hamilton. "[She] believes morally in what he's trying to do, and she absolutely backs him 100%.

"She's the only person he really trusts in a room and you sense how important and precious those relationships are in that world, because the people you actually trust are very few and far between," follows The Crown star.


Like every good drama, there's plenty more at play than the main plot line.

"There are dramas between people in the same Cabinet, it has lots of layers," teases Hamilton, whose character's arch rival is home secretary Archie Glover-Morgan, played by David Haig.

"It's not just the crisis that hits the country - it's the people dealing with it, the relationships between those people and their families and private lives, it ripples outwards," she says. "There are personal storylines running through this political agenda too."

Of the personal storylines, Carlyle relays: "Right at the beginning [Sutherland's] daughter has graduated from university and that night she and her friends celebrate, some drugs get passed around and her friend collapses into a coma, so this is heavy for the PM.

"His human story revolves around that - and his wife used to be a lawyer, so how do they cope with that?" continues the father of three. "It starts to get bigger, like pulling a thread."

"When you meet me, I'm married with two teenage children and what looks like a solid set-up is fractured by the fact someone comes back into my life that I haven't seen for 25 years," Hamilton says of her character's woes.

"He turns out not to be the person I thought he was," adds the mother of two. "And it's those relationships set against politics and how they clash."


Has it given the actors a newfound respect for politicians and the like who make such life-changing decisions?

"Most definitely; I've always thought, 'Who would want this job?' " Carlyle confesses.

"But even at a time like this where you think, 'Who the hell would want responsibility with this crisis?', there's a Cabinet of people, all of whom want the top job," says Hamilton.

"It's not just the way the government of the day handles it, it's how the public respond," she adds. "That's one of the things that's the most explosive in our storyline."

Could the series reconvene for a second 'meeting'?

"Who knows?" Hamilton says coyly. "How many COBRA meetings can there be? 'Lots' is the answer. I'd love it ... if the planet doesn't explode and we're not all dead!"

"There are still lingering plot lines," Carlyle finishes. "Still lots of situations to be sorted, so it's possible."

- COBRA is available on Sky One and NOW TV from Friday.