Magazine article The Spectator

Television: Coalition

Magazine article The Spectator

Television: Coalition

Article excerpt

In a late schedule change, Channel 4's Coalition was shifted from Thursday to Saturday to make room for Jeremy Paxman interviewing the party leaders. With most dramas, that would mean I'd have to issue the sternest of spoiler alerts for anybody reading before the programme goes out. In this case, though, you know the story already -- because Coalition was a dramatisation of what happened in Westminster in the days after the last general election.

Fortunately, one of the programme's many qualities was its Day of the Jackal ability to keep us gripped even though we were always aware of the outcome -- largely by reminding us that the characters weren't. Another was how often it brought to mind Alan Bennett's observation that 'there is no period so remote as the recent past'. 'Clegg nearly as popular as Churchill,' read a Sunday Times headline after the first TV debate. 'Mr Schwarzenegger!' cried David Cameron, taking a call from the governor of California -- on a phone handed to him by Andy Coulson.

But most surprising (and bravest) of all, Coalition was almost heroically free of cynicism. Three years ago, its writer, James Graham, managed to have a huge stage hit with This House , a serious-minded exploration of the fall of the Labour government in 1979. Here, he demonstrated a similar willingness to acknowledge political complexities -- but also a touching degree of respect, and even sympathy, for the politicians caught up in them. While clearly no strangers to self-interest, all three party leaders were presented as men genuinely trying to carry out the electorate's wishes, however unpalatable.

In the circumstances, the competition as to which of them was most agonised proved predictably fierce. 'This isn't going to plan,' whispered a shellshocked David Cameron once the election results started coming in. Gordon Brown, apparently encouraged by not having done far worse, continued in tormented denial for a few days before being forced to abandon his dream of a united left ruling Britain for ever. Even so, the most agonised of the lot was probably Nick Clegg who, despite his supposedly triumphant campaign, finished up losing seats. 'I feel so stupid, buying into all that hype,' he lamented on election night. 'I thought it was real.' And that was before he found himself with the future of British politics in his unprepared hands....

Graham took us through the twists and turns of what followed with great clarity -- but without ever allowing us to forget how twisty and turny they were. …

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