mon 17/06/2019

Road to Brexit, BBC Two review - a rotten historian for a rotten parliament | reviews, news & interviews

Road to Brexit, BBC Two review - a rotten historian for a rotten parliament

Road to Brexit, BBC Two review - a rotten historian for a rotten parliament

Matt Berry's delusional mash-up of history reflects the state of the nation

Preposterous assertions: Matt Berry as unreliable historian Michael Squeamish

Let me be clear. The agonising process of the UK’s departure, or not, from the EU will be an infinite field of academic study over the decades to come. Road to Brexit (BBC Two) will not be a valuable source of research material, because it was a farrago of misinformation and fantasy, but it least it delivered a reasonable percentage of cheap belly laughs.

It was a vehicle for Matt Toast of London Berry, appearing here as the imaginary historian Michael Squeamish. Slobbish, bearded and long-haired, Squeamish exuded a bellicose air of entirely unjustified certainty as he rode roughshod over 60-odd years of Britain’s strained history with Europe, blithely mangling the facts and illustrating his preposterous assertions with randomly-selected chunks of film. After a parade of ill-assorted individuals said to epitomise Britishness, Squeamish turned languidly towards the camera for a meta-intervention. “It’s often dictated by what stock footage is available and I would say that Adam Ant shouldn’t really have been in that montage you’ve just seen,” he drawled.” (Slight pause). “He’s a Lib Dem.”

Like the putrid emanations from our Rotten Parliament, nothing that Squeamish said or showed could be trusted. Inexplicably, the Labour politician Alan Johnson was represented on screen by clips of Robert Redford. The Treaty of Rome, which created the EEC, was accurately assigned to the year 1957, but Squeamish’s description of it strayed from the facts – “in the beginning it was a chess club, where people would just play chess to relax.” Perhaps this was a subliminal hint that our entry into the European “club” had been achieved by chicanery, but who knows?

Squeamish averred that Prime Minister Edward Heath had been inspired to take Britain into the EEC by the example of Cilla Black and Cliff Richard, two of the very few people in Britain who had ever been abroad. The general populace was depicted as a quaint herd of old biddies and the sort of blokes who’d wear handkerchiefs on their heads at the seaside. In a re-voiced Alan Whicker interview, a “Mr and Mrs Mick Jagger” were quizzed about Europe. For instance, where is it? “I can’t remember.” Have you heard of France? “No.” (Pictured below, Squeamish with Alexander Macqueen as Tory MP Tony Braxton).Matt Berry and Alexander MacQueen in Road to BrexitYet Squeamish (and writer Arthur Mathews, Berry’s collaborator on Toast of London) did insert some tart barbs in between the farce and misdirections, like the tabloid newspaper headline that yelled “Corbyn’s Plan for Britain: A Billion Immigrants by 2025”, or the observation that “Theresa May was an intensely shy woman who had never spoken to another human being until she went to Oxford University.” The notion that Anna Soubry and her fatuous Independent Group were in fact the Eurovision winners Brotherhood of Man wasn’t really all that far-fetched.

The “liberal elite” got a backhanded clobbering via the smug and blissfully dim Islington couple Rob and Jemima Codex-Forrester. Jemima was an enthusiastic proponent of greater immigration – “I’d say about half the world’s population could fit into Britain and we probably wouldn’t notice the difference.” And would the Codex-Forresters consider housing asylum seekers in their own home? They looked incredibly shifty and didn’t answer (silly question anyway, since Lily Allen and Yvette Cooper have already rehoused them all).

The freakish, toxic nature of the Brexit debate has effectively quarantined it from comedy and satire, rendering “comedians” surplus to requirements (though I remain convinced that Jean-Claude Juncker could have had a great career in vaudeville). Road to Brexit was hardly a defining moment in comic history, but its mix of misleading factoids and delusional ignorance was, in its way, an accurate reflection of the state of the nation.

The freakish, toxic nature of the Brexit debate has effectively quarantined it from comedy and satire

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters