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What does Carrie see in Boris Johnson? The answer is not obvious in This England

 


This England (Sky Atlantic and NOW TV app) raises the question what does Carrie Symonds see in Boris Johnson?

There must be something because she’s Carrie Johnson now, but the answer isn’t obvious in this six-part dramatization of Boris’ time at 10 Downing Street.

Boris is brilliantly played by Kenneth Branagh. He doesn’t appear for a while in the first episode, which is frustrating because I was dying to see the transformation. But his invisibility is the point.

This England Ep1: Boris Johnson wins 2019 general election as Covid 19 emerges in Asia and Europe
This England Ep1: Boris Johnson wins 2019 general election as Covid 19 emerges in Asia and Europe

The show kicks off with live action footage of Boris on his rise to the post of Prime Minister, before switching to the dramatized version, as Covid makes its way through China and then Europe in early 2020. The reason for which we don’t see Kenneth/Boris here is because it’s not that important to him.

So we watch ministers and public health figures discuss the impending outbreak, as ambulances head for northern Italy. Britain is clearly unprepared, but not all of us were.

Kenneth Branagh's portrayal of Boris Johnson makes it possible to hate Boris and want to hug him at the same time
Kenneth Branagh’s portrayal of Boris Johnson makes it possible to hate Boris and want to hug him at the same time

The star of the series at the start of this first episode is Dominic Cummings, the man behind Boris. He’s fun to watch as long as he’s not your boss, telling a room full of new advisers that half of them will be fired on Valentine’s Day, just because. He’s not bothered by news of coronavirus, as he’s too busy thinking big thoughts that will change the world forever.

Kenneth Branagh, when he finally appears on screen as Boris, has another problem. He must find a way to tell his many children from many marriages that they have a new half-brother because Carrie Symonds is pregnant. The problem is that they will not respond to his telephone invitations to come and join them for dinner. It’s not clear if they refuse to answer the phone, or if he directly calls their voicemail with the invitation, but either way he looks weak and lonely.

Andrew Buchan (Mark Latimer in Broadchurch) plays Matt Hancock in This England
Andrew Buchan (Mark Latimer in Broadchurch) plays Matt Hancock in This England

Carrie, is still crazy about him, for reasons we may never understand. Branagh gives us a hot air version of Boris all the thumbs up and cheerful Homer quotes in public, while privately admitting to Carrie that he struggles with the black dog, like his hero Winston Churchill called depression. As the rest of Britain rushes to prepare for the pandemic, Boris retreats to a country house with Carrie, where they paint watercolors together.

Maybe she pities him. Branagh’s forced joy every time he comes into contact with someone outside of Boris’ inner circle is touchingly sad. He got the big job, but it didn’t make him happy.

There is a Greek tragedy in every glimpse of Boris. That doesn’t excuse what’s to come, where he deliberately let Covid tear himself apart in Britain for a few weeks because he didn’t want to be the bad guy. But Branagh’s portrayal makes it possible to hate Boris and want to hug him at the same time.

I was a little bored by This England after a chaotic opening but by the end of the first episode, Branagh had me hooked.

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