If a film or series goes against the grain of expectations, that’s definitely a plus. Director Michael Winterbottom, owner of several Berlinale bears, has always been a harsh critic of British politics. In his series “This England” Kenneth Branagh takes center stage as Boris Johnson and his newly arrived team as managers of the Covid-19 measures of 2020 – one would expect a cinematic campaign of destruction. Instead, Winterbottom was actually trying to make sense of what the heck was going on in those heads. The result is unflattering, but nuanced nonetheless.
“This England” begins with the inauguration, Johnson and his super adviser Dominic Cummings (Simon Paisley Day) want to transform the kingdom into something they can’t put into words without contradicting themselves, and even in their illogical description they don’t agree. Johnson is overwhelmed by multitasking: new girlfriend, new dog, writing a book, while also becoming the greatest prime minister of all time, please at the same time and effortlessly – a man who wants everything, but does not want to cancel the next vacation.
Cummings is almost insulted that six months into his tenure, a pandemic is thrown at him as he tries to fill as many useful idiots as possible. In Winterbottom’s version, Cummings is a racist loudmouth, a cold villain. Johnson gets off better, he’d like to be a better person if it wasn’t so terribly exhausting.
The mismanagement is dissected alive
And so they are now dilettante as pandemic planners: lockdown, tests, hygiene rules? Johnson and Cummings don’t take anything seriously until it’s too late, always listening to whatever advice seems easiest to them. Winterbottom contrasts the Downing Street sessions with scenes of the spreading plague that has no regard for Dominic Cummings’ agenda. Nurses get infected and die, in the editorial offices they calculate the doubling numbers, while Cummings and Johnson consider whether they would become more popular if they renamed the herd immunity they rely on. Inaction was, you can understand that here again, not a helpful answer to Corona.
And Branagh as Boris Johnson, that actually works – he looks very made up in the close-ups, but every movement, the posture is right, and if you can, you should definitely listen to the original version, because he nailed the voice and the intonation perfectly. If you stick with “This England” it’s mostly because of him – and because he doesn’t quibble with the man he’s playing, even though it would be easy.
Still, it’s a newfangled bad habit to film a story before the ink is dry. The mismanagement is being dissected alive: The processing of the mistakes in the pandemic is still ongoing in Great Britain and has long since overtaken “This England” in recent months. The addiction to preparing every crisis for television is not wrong in the beginning: watching everything again, allowing others to see things – that can help to sort through what you have experienced, to get your own emotions under control. At the right hour. It’s just too early for the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This England”, six episodes on Sky.