It was all set to become the next big political thriller – a 10-part series that would “blow the lid” off North Korea by describing the capture of a British nuclear scientist.
Yet three years after being announced, the Channel Four project – titled Opposite Number – remains unmade after investors failed to materialise.
Yesterday, an explanation emerged – the British broadcaster had been secretly hacked as part of a furious reaction from the North Korean regime.
An expose by the New York Times revealed that Channel Four’s computer system had been targeted in an attempt to protect North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s reputation.
While the attack was stopped before damage was done, the project – which had also been publicly criticised by the regime – was eventually ditched.
The revelation raises serious questions about the ability of Britain’s creative industries to depict North Korea at a time of heightened tensions.
It also sheds light on the strength of the country’s cyber capabilities – and whether the UK Government is doing enough to counter them.
The saga begun in August 2014 when Channel Four’s newly formed international drama division announced an “ambitious” new political drama.
Opposite Number would be written Matt Charman – soon to be Oscar-nominated for his script for the Steven Spielberg film Bridge of Spies – and would revolve around North Korea.
“On a covert mission in North Korea, the world’s most secretive nation, a British nuclear scientist is taken prisoner, triggering an international crisis which itself must be kept secret,” read an outline of the plot in a press release.
“Realising their man could be forced to help North Korea finally weaponize its nuclear technology, the British Prime Minister and the US President, two leaders of very different political stripes, must work together and mobilise every level of their governments to pull the world back from the brink…”
Mr Charman said the television series would “blow the lid off our understanding of who we think the North Korean people are and what their government truly wants”.
However the North Korean regime had other ideas. Within days the country’s top military body, the National Defence Commission (NDC), had dubbed the project a “slanderous farce”.
The country already had “unimaginably powerful nuclear weaponry” and did not need foreign technology, the body’s spokesman said, calling on Number 10 to intervene. But it has now emerged the regime went a step further.
Increasingly using cyber warfare to further its ambitions, North Korea reportedly targeted Channel Four directly.
A New York Times piece on Monday revealed how “British authorities found that the North had hacked into the television network’s computer system”.
While “the attack was stopped before inflicting any damage”, outside investors for the drama “suddenly dried up and the project effectively died”.
The hack mirrored a similar saga at Sony Pictures, which was targeted over the comedy The Interview about the attempted assassination of North Korea’s dictator.
The company struggled to distribute the film as theaters were intimidated, eventually making it available only online.
It is not the only time the regime’s cyber-warfare has impacted Britain, with security officials blaming North Korea for a virus that crippled the NHS earlier this year.
Asked about the hack, a Channel Four spokesman said the company does not comment on security issues.
About the series, the spokesman said: “This project did not progress because co-production funding was not secured by the producers to supplement the budget Channel 4 had committed to.”