The Covid-19 pandemic was a turbulent and frightening moment in recent history. And in the wake of Brexit, severe flooding and parliamentary leadership battles, this chaotic turmoil became the breeding ground for disaster in UK politics mere weeks after now-former prime minister Boris Johnson entered the doors of Number 10. It’s this ensuing drama that finds itself the subject of co-writer and director Michael Winterbottom’s mini-series This England, which sees Kenneth Branagh as the oafish politician.
Beginning with a recap of the scandals that rocked UK politics at the end of 2019, the show wastes little time in jumping straight into the mess. From herein, the script is predominately comprised of recreated meetings and conversations concerning the developing crisis as the virus took root in China before eventually making its way to Europe and the UK. Meanwhile, Johnson struggles to deal with the ongoing situation whilst facing extra pressures from his home life. It’s all very familiar territory for anyone who watched the news at this time, and as such, This England plays out more as a truncated retelling of events than a behind-closed-doors-style dramatisation of what went wrong. The heart-wrenching human stories of frontline staff and patients are told through small subplots throughout different episodes; however, these are nevertheless fictionalised regurgitations of news stories.
Branagh pulls off a solid Boris impersonation throughout (with other cast members being the spitting image of their character). What is peculiar, however, is that Johnson is portrayed as a tragic hero, with Dominic Cummings (Simon Paisley Day) being the heartless villain of the story. With no mention of the Partygate scandal that led to Johnson’s eventual resignation, with the series ending on Cummings’s own career-ending Barnard Castle blunder, hindsight is the main issue with this series. Winterbottom attempts to shine a light on the pollical calamity of the early stages of the pandemic, but the whole picture just wasn’t there when he began working on the project in June 2020.
Though This England is an admirable attempt to contextualise Westminster’s reaction to Covid-19, Winterbottom was too quick on the trigger. Consequently, the mini-series is unintentionally dated and only one part of the story we know now.
This England is released on Sky on 28th September 2022.
Watch the trailer for This England here: