There has been a fair view reactions to last night’s BBC1 drama “The Amazing Mrs Pritchard” (which I discover has its own website) in the Lib Dem blogosphere most of which seem to be negative. Paul Walter thinks it “a rather lukewarm show”, Richard Huzzey was “disappointed by it” and thinks it “a missed opportunity”, James Graham hasn’t seen it but wouldn’t have liked it if he had, and Alex Wilcock really, really, really didn’t like it. As I have gone on record as saying I “really enjoyed watching” it, but only very briefly saying why, I feel I need to mount a defence of the amazing Mrs Pritchard.
But first a little story.
I have a strong recollection of reading a review of the first episode of Alan Bleasdale’s TV drama G.B.H. by a prominent Labour MP. I forget precisely who it was. The MP attacked the drama for daring to portray the Labour Party and labour politics in such a negative light and accused Bleasdale of betraying his socialist beliefs for bringing such a work to the screen. Such a drama, he argued, would only bring comfort to the then Tory government.
G.B.H. is of course one of the greatest political dramas every broadcast on British TV.
I also recall that after several other episodes of the drama had been aired, and we had seen the story develop to include the council leader played by Robert Lindsay (obviously based on Derek Hatton) being exploited by sinister right-wing forces, the Labour MP published another review. This was a more balanced reaction to the drama and to his credit he retracted much of what he had said originally and apologised for some of those things.
What lessons should we learn from this? First, that politicians are probably not the best people to review political dramas. Those actively involved in politics and committed to a particular cause probably carry too much baggage with them to react to such a drama as the non-political person would. Particularly when the drama portrays professional politics in a negative light. I know I do. In my previous post I mentioned that I felt uncomfortable for moments while watching last nights drama. These moments all stemmed from my reacting as a politically engaged person, especially when “my” Party was coming off worse.
Second, that you shouldn’t rush to judgement about a drama after only the first episode. There are apparently 5 more episodes of The Amazing Mrs Pritchard to go. This first episode established the basic premise (unknown woman wins election and becomes PM) and put out there a number of ideas and views about the way politics is in the UK. We don’t yet know how the drama will explore those ideas. Will it reinforce them? Undermine them? Will it be subtle, contradictory and interesting in developing them? Or will it fluff it? We’ll have to wait and see!
Now before I look at some of the specific criticisms leveled at this programme can I just say “calm down”. This is not a serious political drama aimed at us saddo politicos who like to quote dialogue from the West Wing at each other. This is a “fantasy satire” aimed at a prime time evening TV audience requiring some suspension of disbelief. Some of the comments I’ve read this evening are taking the whole thing far too seriously. Lighten up guys.
The portrayal of politicians
One criticism leveled at the drama is they way it portrays professional politicians and the three main parties. It is accused (by Alex) of “presenting every single ÂpoliticianÂ as a slimy, worthless piece of scum all the same as each other”. And Richard feels “the criticism that stings most deeply, as I watched it, is the rejection of political parties as obstructive and Âall the same as each otherÂ.” There is a lot of truth in those comments. But consider this is fantasy drama, Mrs P and the Purple Alliance are the good guys so the bad guys have to be, well, bad.
Also, this is a drama about the public’s disengagement from and disenchantment with politics as it is currently conducted. Yes, the politicians in the drama are portrayed as unattractive. But wake up guys, for many people in this country politicians are unattractive. If you were to go out and ask the managers, staff and customers of the real world equivalents of Greengages supermarkets they would say that this drama’s portrayal of politicians is, while a bit over the top, an accurate one.
Is that uncomfortable, worrying, disturbing? Yes! But true. That is the problem we’ve got.
But she’s got no policies!
Well duh! The premise of the programme is that she becomes PM by accident. Of course she’s got no policies, no worked out platform, no detailed analysis of the state of the nation. This is a fantasy drama about an ordinary woman who ends up running the country. If she had policies she wouldn’t be ordinary – she’d be a politician!
I have to say I was wondering whether I detected a Tory bias in the programme. There were a number of things that suggested it, despite what I thought was a rather sympathetic portrayal of Blair at the end. I think this may be perceived bias rather than a real one again brought about by thinking like a politico. I think the jury is still out on that one.
The references to Thatcher? I don’t think you make a drama about a woman becoming PM without some reference to the great she elephant.
Finally, there is the charge that the drama makes the simplistic argument that it is men that are the problem and if only we put the women in charge things would be a whole lot better. Well yes it does. At least the first episode does. We will have to see how the plot develops and whether having set up that argument it continues to make it without qualification or whether it wants to knock it down.
I will admit there is a good deal of old fashioned feminist polemic about the drama. But that is no bad thing in my view. When was the last time we had some angry feminist polemic on prime time TV? And if you don’t think there is good reason for having that kind of thing then, putting party political prejudices aside, ask yourself this – Why is it that George Osbourne has a more senior job in the Tory party than Theresa May? I think the writer of “The Amazing Mrs Pritchard” could hazard a guess at the answer. Can you?
OK. Here endeth my first proper rant on this blog and my defence of this TV programme.
This content was originally posted on my old Process Guy blog.