Is The Undeclared War Based on a True Story or a Book?

Peacock’s ‘The Undeclared War’ is a cyber-thriller set in the near future where a cyberattack from Russia leads to chaos and uncertainty in the UK. At the center of the story is a young woman named Saara Parvin, who joins GCHQ as a part of the student experience program and plays a key role in fending off the Russian cyberattack, while going through some deeply personal struggles. Written by Peter Kosminsky, the story keeps the audience on edge much like its sleep-deprived characters, who continuously work to decrypt the code that could hold the fate of the country within itself. With a setting that is only two years in the future, the show uses real political events and upheavals to create more tension. If it makes you wonder how much more of the story is based on real things, here’s what you should know about it.

Is The Undeclared War Based on True Events?

‘The Undeclared War’ is not based on a book. It is also not based on true events, though it is inspired by the current political state of the world and extrapolates it into the near future, focusing on some very real threats to the world. The show is conceived by Peter Kosminsky, who also serves as its director.

The idea to create a show that would focus on cyber warfare originated in 2017 during a dinner conversation between Kosminsky and Colin Callender, with whom he’d previously collaborated on ‘Wolf Hall’. They’d been discussing “active measures” and the use of cyber warfare by countries to influence the political landscape of other countries. “We were coming off the back of the 2016 election and Brexit, and we thought that this was rich to British territory. My suggestion was that we did something historical, that looked back at how active measures have been employed, and Peter very smartly said, ‘No, no, let’s not do that. Let’s look forward into the future.’ And, in particular, how the cyber frontier is really the new front line in international politics,” Callender said.

Kosminsky believed that other forms of warfare, the ones that happen on air, sea, and land, have been covered in movies and TV shows over and over again, but in the current times, the real threat lies in the cyber war, which impacts things more profoundly that people care to realize. With ‘The Undeclared War’ he aimed to give the audience a peek behind the curtain about the looming threats and how social media and fake news are used to aggravate such situations. He knew that such a story needed to have its footing in reality, so nothing had to be made up out of thin air. He extensively researched the subject to keep the show factually based, but the deeper he explored it, “the more terrifying it became”.

“We researched with a fairly open mind to try to figure out what the story is and what challenges we as a society were likely to face in and around the year 2024. The result is, above all I think, a cautionary tale. The thing that surprised and frightened me was the scale of the threat, the extent to which a war is already taking place in the cyber domain, the undeclared war of our title,” Kosminsky said. With enough facts to back his story, Kosminsky was able to focus on a very real threat in his imaginary tale. “These are the kinds of scenarios being ‘war-gamed’ by our security services right now. All I’ve done is extrapolated to a possible conclusion and teased out a possible motive,” he added. During a launch event for the series, he also made it clear that while the story’s characters are fictional, the techniques and strategies used in it are not made up.

While the setting of ‘The Undeclared War’ is a terrifying prospect, Kosminsky went into the story with the simple intention of spreading awareness about information warfare. “We saw some of this in what went on during the Brexit referendum, what went on in the American presidential election. Social media can be hijacked to influence public opinion, to steer us towards an objective masterminded by others who don’t have our best interests at heart. We can bury our heads in the sand and hope it will go away, but it won’t, and it’s probably better if we understand the threat we’re facing,” he said.

The cyber attack becomes the driving point of the story, but at its heart, it revolves around the efforts of good people to do whatever it takes to make the world a better place. While the idea of the war is depressing, the story also ignites our hope in the goodness of people who dare to do the right thing. Kosminsky wanted to take his audience on this journey, which might not be “necessarily an entirely pleasant awakening” but that of “reassurance, at least on this level, that there are a group of people who are, against the odds and with, relatively, pathetically small resources, doing their best to protect us. And that’s something of which I think we can be proud.”

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