I was once surprised to see a hard-left journalist roaring with laughter at a party for rightwingers, but as he explained later with nary a blush, Tories always have the most fun. David Hare perhaps had this in mind when writing his new series, together with the slogan that “the personal is political”. His fictional MPs and aides have principles, sure, but their actions are equally motivated by matters of trouser and gusset. What is open and above board on one side is countered by what is secret and furtive — which is great for the plot.
Helen McCrory plays prime minister Dawn, with a smile as rigid as her hair-do, neck as stiff as her manner. The thorn in Dawn’s side is Peter Laurence, maverick MP for Croydon. His naughty-boy shtick might bring to mind a certain large figure with fluffy hair, but instead he’s played by the tall, thin and lugubrious-looking Hugh Laurie. A “relaxed Conservative” who admires “anyone who stands strong and free”, Peter prates as if he’s decades younger, with a jaunty boosterism that doesn't quite match the tired reality.
Peter emerges from the High Court victorious after a libel case against a newspaper accusing him of profiting from his office as minister for transport. Even his counsel thinks he got away with it, though to the fan in the street who wants a selfie, it’s “fake news!” The PM summons him for a reprimand (bringing the libel case was foolhardy) but also a carrot: “I’m planning a reshuffle.” There may be a snake hidden in her leafy words: “Not everyone’s as versatile as you, Peter.”
Hare is just as interested in those who stand behind these grandees: Sydney, Peter’s driver for the occasions when Dawn allows him to have a ministerial car, has become used to locating her boss in unorthodox places. Dawn and Peter both have thrusting, youthful advisers, snappy Julia (Olivia Vinall) and earnest Duncan (Iain De Caestecker), happy to swing on the coattails of power — for the moment.
Peter’s past has more jiggling skeletons than a ghost train, so antagonising the press was never going to be a great idea. The ever-brilliant Pip Torrens is the gruff editor who summarily sacks Charmian (Sarah Greene), the hack who’s just cost the paper £1.5m in damages and costs. Unsurprisingly, she’s out for revenge and a mysterious contact might just provide it. While it feels a bit facile to use sex so often as a way of joining the dots, Hare’s brisk script sets up some ingenious scenarios, and Laurie and McCrory reliably bring the bliss.
On BBC1 from October 18 at 9pm
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