For all its faults, US television knows how to be idealistic about politics. In this country we get cynical pap about shopkeepers becoming prime ministerby Amy Jenkins / November 19, 2006 / Leave a comment
“Democratic value” is a cornerstone of the BBC’s new charter. The charter talks about creating opportunities for people to become more active citizens. The trouble is, when the BBC makes drama with the charter in mind, it tends to be bad. “Messages,” as Sam Goldwyn said, “are for Western Union.”
Perhaps “democratic value” was in the minds of those who commissioned The Amazing Mrs Pritchard, a six-part series currently on BBC1 about a supermarket manager who becomes prime minister almost overnight. The show is written by Sally Wainwright, whose credits include The Wife of Bath, a drama written in the run-up to charter renewal which tried to shoehorn contemporary dilemmas into a Canterbury tale in a failed attempt to be both worthy and popular.
Now we have Jane Horrocks playing the said Ros Pritchard. She complains when two (male) election candidates brawl outside her shop, and ends up on Newsnight. She decides to stand for parliament on a “common sense” platform, with no policies to speak of. The owner of the supermarket chain jets in and puts £10m in the kitty. Within days Ros is fielding candidates across the nation and a frontbench Conservative, Janet McTeer, defects to her “Purple Alliance” after Ros helps her out by passing her a tampon under the cubicle door in the ladies’ loo.
Wainwright is presumably being feminist here: women bleed, therefore they’re the underdogs, therefore they have to help each other out, therefore they’re better people. But aren’t we also being told that McTeer is silly enough to exchange hard-won status—to say nothing of her political convictions—for a bit of cotton-wool solidarity?
The whole thing might be bearable if it were satire. But it’s not. It’s too busy being dumb and cosy, meeting the requirements of what well-educated bods at the BBC think should be served up for the masses on prime-time television. In fact, the tenor of the piece is virulently anti-intellectual. The amazingly irritating Mrs Pritchard refers to politicians either as “that lot who talk in riddles” or as “wankers.” This is a world where husbands are loveable because they’re too klutzy to work the video.
What about attempting to celebrate intelligence, idealism, capability? For that, we have to turn to the US. Commander in Chief (More4) is a glossy American network show in which Geena Davis plays an independent vice-president. Having been hired by her Republican running mate as…