THOSE who have access to Sky Atlantic — as I had unexpectedly last weekend — can enjoy its new drama This England (from 28 September): “enjoy”, that is, if you have a masochistic streak, as its subject is repellent.
Here, Sir Kenneth Branagh plays Boris Johnson in a remarkable physical and vocal impersonation, as he deals with the unfolding Covid-19 tragedy — except that he doesn’t deal with it. He pushes it away, deaf to all advice and warning, putting off all difficult and unpopular decisions, a portrait of bumbling, self-centred incompetence, an old buffer muttering Shakespearean tags rather than addressing the life-and-death issues piling up all around him.
Simon Paisley Day’s Dominic Cummings provides a vicious counterpoint: a vulpine death’s head trying to insert backbone into the administration. But the real contrast is provided by the attention paid to the Covid victims. Beyond Westminster lie the sick and dying, the hospitals and care homes breaking as the Government fails to supply PPE, enough testing, impose isolating regulations; we see individual human tragedies and lives spent in costly dedication to others, absolute condemnation of Downing Street’s selfish prevarication.
I offer no support for Mr Johnson; but, surely, there must somewhere lurk powerful charisma, some defining edge (if only overweening ambition) that is needed to add more spice to the drama.
The Walk-In (ITV, from Monday of last week) offers another slice of recent British history: drama based on actual events, equally distressing. Stephen Graham plays a transformed BNP thug who, 20 years on, now works for the anti-racist Hope Not Hate organisation, trying to defeat the neo-Nazi groups that foment violence and hatred against Muslims, Jews, and black people.
The Brexit campaign fuels the fantasy of the recovery of a white, powerful Britain, purged from contamination by foreigners. Disgusting attacks culminate in the murder of the MP Jo Cox. The drama is a powerful portrayal of the seduction of a simple creed: of identifying an enemy who is responsible for everything that makes your life miserable, and who must be destroyed. It inspires constant vigilance, and admiration for those — and their families — who are prepared to live under daily threat as they seek to confound the powers of darkness.
Paxman: Putting up with Parkinson’s (ITV, Tuesday of last week) was the testimony of a celebrity too irascible to adopt the current label of “living with” the disease. The Rottweiler political interviewer and supercilious presenter of University Challenge pushes away all offers of sympathy as he focuses his forensic curiosity on the implications of his diagnosis, learning about the current state of research and medical amelioration.
His celebrity ensures that doors and labs denied to others are open to him. Despite all protestations, he finally submitted to good advice, joining ordinary mortals in a bowls club and English National Ballet’s “Dance for Parkinson’s” group.