16 December 2002 | bob the moo
Interesting political comment but not without it's flaws
In 1992 a group of labour activists, Paul, Maggie and Irène, are dismayed by yet another Labour defeat to a Conservative Government. They each wish to support Labour in different ways. Irène works for the BBC, Paul applies for a job in the Labour press office while Maggie volunteers for the party. Gradually the Labour party changes it's tactics to spin their appearance. Paul rises up in the ranks while Maggie stands for her hometown and Irène notices the changes in media tack. At the next election labour sweep to power with Paul part of the media team and Maggie winning her seat. However can the party maintain the approach desired by their grass root members or give in to the reality of politics as they have been playing it.
Shown over two nights on BBC1 on Remembrance weekend this was billed as an attack on how New Labour has fallen from the lofty principles it held while in opposition. Newspaper articles before the show were touting television as the new voice of criticism in an environment increasingly controlled by political spin. To some extent this programme did serve to do that - but it didn't totally convince or manage to be as clever or as insightful as other programmes where political comment is not just the sole reason d'etre.
The plot basically shows how New Labour has become more like the Tory party than the Labour party of the working people they once billed themselves to be. It shows the ruthless tactics used to get to power and to stay in power by using powerful whips against MPs and media spin to cover mistakes etc. But is this a point that needs 4 hours to make? Most of us in the UK know how Labour has basically gone from red to blue and can't be totally trusted in what they say (just like any party).
Stretching this point to 4 hours gives it time to examine and expand it on without ramming down our throats but instead it does just that. The fact that Labour has abandoned it's principles is simply made but not expanded upon well. The device of using three characters who begin full of enthusiasm and end up betraying what they once believed in is a good idea but it means we spend too much time looking at their relationships and private lives and it drags the events out. The one point is well blended into this but I've seen it done better on things like the West Wing or even short sketches by Rory Bremnar. Our three leads are meant to represent wide-eyed innocents who change with the party - but the problem is that they seem to be the only people in the whole UK who are surprised by how political parties work! Didn't they know that idealistic principles only work in opposition and that any government needs to say one thing and eventually may need to do another and upset some groups?
This fault does affect the film because it does feel like the makers aren't giving us any credit for having noticed this ourselves over the past 2 terms of office. However this is a minor complaint as to be fair this isn't pretending to be breaking news to us. As a dramatisation of what we already know it works quite well - but I suspect you'll enjoy it more if you're in the conservative party. So it's aimed at the masses who don't read papers, who don't watch Newsnight or listen to radio 4 - but will these people get drawn in by a 4 hour political drama? I doubt it.
Having said that I did enjoy the programme and it was well made and well researched. It is good that someone is willing to be the voice of dissent. But the BBC do alright out of it! They are all over it as the voice of reason, showing no political bias! Please! This makes a point of showing the BBC roasting whoever the Government of the day is - but isn't this is same BBC who were attacked for changing their 6 o'clock news backdrop from blue to red in 1997? Or for using the song `things can only get better' on a supposedly balanced piece looking at New Labour? The only time another news network is mentioned is when it is following up a sleazy piece - which of course the BBC would never do! But these don't take away from the film as a whole or from it's message.
The cast are all pretty good and made up of many familiar faces. Harris stands out as the best performance in the film. In the space of 4 months this is the third thing I have seen in her and she has been good every time (in three very different roles). I am being to get a real admiration for her as she puts her heart into her roles and make them totally believable. Not an easy task here as many of the characters are real paint by numbers jobs. MacFadyen has the same problem but does well in a role that involves several key stages. Baeza is good but has less importance to the story that the other two. Support roles in the film are filled well but do tend to be a little `good politician, righteous politician' etc however they are all delivered well.
Overall this is worth watching if only to confirm what we already know. The fact that this film made no real splash in the newspapers shows that this is not news - everyone knows the score here. It feels professional and is well written and pretty well acted. At 4 hours it feels a bit stretched but it is worth watching once. As for me, I'm slowly becoming a Naomie Harris fan and would happily watch her hoover her house for 2 hours on the strength of her recent work.