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TV review: Partygate, Union With David Olusoga, and Moulin Rouge: Yes we can-can!

13 October 2023

Channel 4

Partygate (Channel 4, Tuesday of last week) dramatised the lockdown parties in 10 Downing Street

Partygate (Channel 4, Tuesday of last week) dramatised the lockdown parties in 10 Downing Street

MY DISGUST and anger grow rather than diminish, as I reflect on Partygate (Channel 4, Tuesday of last week). This docudrama about the goings-on at 10 Downing Street during the pandemic is a tapestry of ill-assorted threads. Based on the hard evidence of the Sue Gray report, actors present in sickening detail a culture of privilege, denial, and carelessness as the Prime Minister’s staff celebrated while the rest of the nation suffered and died.

In contrast, we hear dignified, sober testimonies from real people still seared by the solitary agonies and deaths of beloved parents, spouses, and children — all denied the consolation of loving embrace or final words of farewell — who followed the stern advice that No. 10 dished out to the rest of us. Pantomimic depictions of Hooray Henrys, without a thought in their heads other than their own pleasure, being entrusted with drawing up government policy, were so extreme as almost to undermine the programme’s gravity.

But it was absolute in its condemnation of Boris Johnson, depicted as refusing with bluster and dither to acknowledge the seriousness of the catastrophe not just as it initially unfolded, but throughout, constantly holding back from instigating necessary curtailments to social freedom until it was too late. He is shown entirely aware of, and frequently sharing in, the partying (“wine time Fridays” were written into No. 10’s diary), even daring to joke that one leaving-drinks occasion was “the most socially undistanced party in the UK”.

People talked about £1000 fines for their desperate infringements of the lockdown rules; for this shameless rabble, under their adored leader, that seems lenient.

“Real people” also get their say in Union With David Olusoga (BBC2, from Monday of last week). Their contributions illustrate his underlying theme: that understanding the complex history of the evolution of Great Britain/the UK is not past history, but a pressing current issue, defining, potentially, a very different future.

He does not present the smooth and inevitable coming together of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland formerly considered our divinely inspired path to Imperial destiny. His compelling account is far darker and more violent and unstable — although it also acknowledges passages of economic, social, and cultural flourishing benefiting people as a whole. He unearths little-known detail and incident, and draws unfamiliar and illuminating connections. This is one of the best things that he has done.

Your liturgical dance group might seek inspiration from BBC2’s six-part Moulin Rouge: Yes we can-can! (BBC2, from 27 September). The crucial revelation, treated pathetically as a great surprise, is that its director and many of the shapely dancers are not French, but from the north of England. There is no hint hitherto that the cabaret’s whole point is, surely, sexual titillation — perhaps not so ideal for liturgical dance.

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