wed 11/12/2019

Coalition, Channel 4 | reviews, news & interviews

Coalition, Channel 4

Coalition, Channel 4

How traditional two-party politics was forced to confront the unthinkable

The third way: potential coalitionists Cameron (Mark Dexter), Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Brown (Ian Grieve)

Switched from last Thursday to accommodate the live standup gigs by Cast Iron Dave and "Tough Enough" Clint Miliband, this 90-minute drama took us back five years to the birth of the Conservative-Lib Dem pact. It purported to be based on "extensive research" and interviews with "people who were there", though there wasn't much that the average politico-freak wouldn't have known or surmised already. Some of the performances were fun though.

Particularly relishable was Mark Gatiss's portrayal of Peter Mandelson, silky and slithery like Kaa the snake in The Jungle Book. While all around him were veering between extremes of euphoria, rage and depression, Mandelson floated through a Westminster in chaos wearing an omniscient smirk, as if scheming 12 steps into the future even as Gordon Brown thrashed around like a dying mastodon in a paralysed 10 Downing Street (Gatiss as Mandelson, pictured below).

As David Cameron, Mark Dexter projected a believable mixture of uncertainty at the unknown world of coalition politics alongside an instinct to seize the day and lure the Lib Dems into the proverbial "Tory-led coalition" against their better judgment. Ian Grieve brought a fairly lifelike mix of physical bulk and grumbling grouchiness to Gordon Brown, though writer James Graham also lent some dignity and even pathos to his political passing. This version of Brown was willing to fall on his sword to help Labour hang on to power, and his resignation speech was surely more touching than the real thing ever was. Mandelson's advice to Brown not to delay his departure too long and avoid leaving "in the dark" felt like one of those shards of apocrypha that crop up in political memoirs and echo down the decades.

Over in the Blue camp, Graham seemed persuaded that George Osborne (Sebastian Armesto) was the cool analytical brain in the Tory machine, quick to spot the upside of a coalition (it would move the Conservatives towards the political centre and make them more electable in 2015), though the portrayal was undermined by Armesto's disorientating resemblance to David Miliband. Stuck in the middle was Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel), cruelly flattered by euphoric opinion polls after his appearances in the televised leaders' debates, only to find that the Lib Dems ended up with an increased share of the vote but fewer seats. 

Clegg was the most nuanced of the three leaders, as Graham probed acutely into the ideals-collide-with-reality scenario into which the Lib Dems had been pitched. Clegg was more willing than most of his colleagues (including Donald Sumpter's Paddy Ashdown, pictured left, looking old enough to be Ming Campbell's dad) to treat politics as the art of the possible rather than the impossible dream, and urged them to accept difficult compromises in order to "grab this historic chance to once and for all matter". We shall see what remains of his party in May.

Depicting living politicians can hardly avoidly suffering by all-too-easy comparisons, since these people are always popping up on the telly to spout their boilerplate nonsense one more time, and some of the casting felt wildly misjudged (apparently there was somebody playing Andy Coulson, but I didn't spot him at all). Interestingly, Sally Scott and Caroline Fitzgerald looked spot-on as Samantha Cameron and Sarah Brown, but neither of them was deemed worthy of a line. Anyway must dash – have to prepare for Coalition 2: Boom or Bust?

Mandelson floated through a Westminster in chaos wearing an omniscient smirk, as if scheming 12 steps into the future

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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