'The Trick': The true story behind the Climategate Jason Watkins drama

·TV Reporter
·5 min read
WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 12/10/2021 - Programme Name: The Trick - TX: n/a - Episode: The Trick - generics (No. Generics) - Picture Shows:  Phil Jones (JASON WATKINS) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Laurence Cendrowicz
Jason Watkins stars in The Trick. (BBC/Laurence Cendrowicz)

Drama and real-life collide in BBC One's The Trick, which tells the true events of 2009's Climategate.

Starring Jason Watkins and George MacKay, it's a timely look at the issue with Cop26 – the United Nations climate change conference – due to begin in Glasgow at the end of the month.

Read more: Cop26 - Queen 'irritated' by leaders who 'talk but don't do'

Find out the true story behind tonight's drama and the far-reaching effects of the scandal, which may have changed the fate of the planet.

When is The Trick on TV?

The Trick airs as a one-off drama on Monday, 18 October at 8.30pm on BBC One.

Who is Phil Jones?

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 12/10/2021 - Programme Name: The Trick - TX: n/a - Episode: The Trick - generics (No. Generics) - Picture Shows:  Professor Phil Jones - (C) Vox Pictures - Photographer: Laurence Cendrowicz
Phil Jones, the scientist whose research was targeted. (Vox Pictures/Laurence Cendrowicz)

The scientist at the centre of the hacking controversy was Phil Jones, a professor and the head of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

Jones had dedicated his career to research that aimed to turn around the fortunes of our rapidly deteriorating planet, but suffered the personal and professional trauma of his work being picked apart in a phoney controversy.

Worse still was the fact that Climategate put back his efforts by around a decade as the reputation of his research project and others like it had to be rehabilitated for both world leaders and the general public.

He is played by Jason Watkins, known for his roles in Line Of Duty, The Lost Honour Of Christopher Jefferies, and W1A.

Watkins said: "What shocked me most about this script and our piece was how imminent it was – we need to start doing it now to look after ourselves and the future generation to ensure our long-term survival. 

"I really hope audiences grasp how Phil and his family are utterly exonerated from any wrongdoing in the way he went about his work. I think he was committed, thorough and illuminating on this subject."

What was Climategate?

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 12/10/2021 - Programme Name: The Trick - TX: n/a - Episode: The Trick - generics (No. Generics) - Picture Shows:  Phil Jones (JASON WATKINS), Ruth Jones (VICTORIA HAMILTON) - (C) Vox Pictures - Photographer: Laurence Cendrowicz
Jason Watkins and Victoria Hamilton star as Phil Jones and his wife Ruth. (Vox Pictures/Laurence Cendrowicz)

In 2009, it seemed as though the world was on the cusp of truly tackling climate change – until an unknown hacker managed to access emails from Jones's UEA climate change department.

The Trick writer Owen Sheers explained: "Obama was in the White House, Al Gore and the IPCC had recently won the Nobel Peace Prize, the debate over the science appeared to be settled. 

"But other forces were at work; forces which wanted to keep doubt alive in the conversation, which wanted to slow action on curbing the burning of fossil fuels. 

Read more: Environment activists to head to Cop26 on 'climate train'

"We still don’t know who was behind the hack of CRU. We do know, though, that around the same time there were five other attempted breaches of other climate research centres around the world. We know that what happened was a strategy, a game-plan."

Data from the scientists' emails was manipulated to make it appear that they had been doctoring the figures on climate change and the rapid speed at which it was moving.

The false information was then used at the UN's Cop15 conference by climate -change sceptics to argue that urgent action was not needed, and question whether humans had influenced the climate at all.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 12/10/2021 - Programme Name: The Trick - TX: n/a - Episode: The Trick - Ep1 (No. 1) - Picture Shows:  Sam Bowen (GEORGE MACKAY) - (C) Vox Pictures - Photographer: Rory Taylor
George MacKay plays PR Sam Bowen. (Vox Pictures/Rory Taylor)

George MacKay (1917, True History of the Kelly Gang) plays Sam Bowen, a PR tasked with getting Jones' truth to the masses, and admitted he had learned a lot from the drama.

MacKay said: "I was not aware of any of the events in the piece before being a part of the project; and when I read Owen’s script for the first time, I was completely taken in, as I hope viewers who were not aware of the events of the story will be too."

He added: "It has made me re-evaluate how, on a personal level, one’s actions and the reason for doing them ripple. 

"It has made me reassess the balance of all, and consider the footfall of me pursuing my own goals on a day to day level."

What were the effects of the hacking scandal?

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 12/10/2021 - Programme Name: The Trick - TX: n/a - Episode: The Trick - Ep1 (No. 1) - Picture Shows:  Edward Acton (ADRIAN EDMONDSON), Phil Jones (JASON WATKINS) - (C) Vox Pictures - Photographer: Rory Taylor
Adrian Edmondson also stars as Phil Jones's university colleague Edward Acton. (Vox Pictures/Rory Taylor)

While the fake scandal of the scientists' data has been completely debunked and Jones has been exonerated as having only ever presented the truth through his work, Climategate has left a lingering bad taste.

As Sheers explained: "The fact is that Climategate was hugely successful. The debate over the science was eventually won, but long after the narrative had already been lost. 

Read more: Who is attending Cop26?

"A study at Yale University indicates that the various campaigns against acting on global warming around 2009/10 pushed back public opinion on climate change, especially in the US, by between eight to 10 years.

"A decade was stolen, from us, our children and our grandchildren."

The Trick and its stars impress the point that change can still be effective, but action has to be immediate, with Climategate having wasted much valuable time.

WARNING: Embargoed for publication until 00:00:01 on 12/10/2021 - Programme Name: The Trick - TX: n/a - Episode: The Trick - Ep1 (No. 1) - Picture Shows:  Phil Jones (JASON WATKINS), Ruth Jones (VICTORIA HAMILTON) - (C) Vox Pictures - Photographer: Laurence Cendrowicz
The Trick appeals for action on climate change. (Vox Pictures/Laurence Cendrowicz)

Sheers said: "We are once again at a point when it seems as if the world will finally act on the crucial issue of global warming and the burning of fossil fuels. But we’ve been here before and because of that lost decade the stakes are even higher again. 

"It’s taken one generation to break the planet (half of industrial emissions in the atmosphere have been emitted since 1988) and we now have just around 10 years left for another generation to fix it."

Watkins added: "When I watched the film for the first time, even after being in it, within a short space of time you are climbing up the walls wanting to hammer on doors and express how things have to change."

Watch: Prince Charles introduces climate activists' film

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting