What better way to begin the holiday season than with a bleak and blood-chilling tale of a royal kidnapping, social media running out of control and the British prime minister being asked to do unspeakable things to save a life?
Yes, Charlie Brooker’s new anthology series “Black Mirror” kicked off with “The National Anthem” and did a really good job of persuading me that the internet is a really bad idea and we should all stop using it with immediate effect.
Well, near immediate effect.
Rory Kinnear starred as Michael Callow, a British prime minister pitched into an uncontrollable nightmare when a popular young member of the royal family is kidnapped and targeted for death. The only way to secure her release is for the PM to perform a wholly depraved act on live television: Yes, Charlie Brooker’s latest is festive fun for all the family! Who knows what the audience who read about this episode in this week’s issue of “Radio Times” made of it, but I bloody loved it.
The key to this episode’s success is in the all too plausible way that it projects our fear of new technology onto a crisis which unfolds unchecked via Twitter, Facebook and YouTube with nobody in traditional authority able to do a single thing to stop it. Watching with ever-increasing horror as events unravel completely and the traditional responses of government fail to achieve anything – in fact, the power and resources that the PM has at his fingertips more or less prevents him from doing anything but get backed into a corner – Rory Kinnear delivers one of the best performances that you’ll see on television all year.
He’s so easy to empathise with as the reality of the fate he has in store meets him, credibly panicked as the security forces achieve a fairly massive own goal and so devastated and broken by the events of one nightmarish day that you’ll actually have sympathy for a politician – absorb that entirely alien notion for a second or two.
I loved the bleak horror of the premise, the thread of gallows humour which offset some of the dread which built as the inevitable climax approached (no pun intended) and on the technical side, the muted colours and blue-tinged look of the photography (at times “The National Anthem” reminded me of “Layer Cake” – which reminded me of Michael Mann’s stuff, which is no bad thing).
Nothing’s perfect, of course, and I felt like the cross-section of British society which we encountered huddling around television sets watching events unfold was a little too on-the-nose (Have you ever met anyone who so freely conversed about Lars Von Trier’s “Dogme 95” collective of film hipsters in public? Was this a workplace or a film studies class?).
Dark, economically told and exquisitely controlled in its anger at a world which would vote Hitler into office today if he was competing on a Simon Cowell talent show each Autumn Saturday night, “The National Anthem” bodes well for the rest of “Black Mirror”.
More of this glorious filth, please, Charlie.