Channel 4 - Partygate - Review – a giant, exploding grenade of a TV show

Set between the outbreak of Covid in early 2020 and the spring of the following year, Joseph Bullman’s film has Johnson himself as a peripheral presence, played by a lookalike filmed from behind and voiced by Jon Culshaw. Our protagonists are the aides, advisers, PR people and junior civil servants around him – most of whom are named, real people.

By day, they were running the country. By night, they were on the wine and karaoke, and Partygate’s core mission is to say, yes, the rule-breaking really was that bad, both in terms of the number of parties – each of the 15 shown is numbered and dated by a caption on the screen – and how debauched they were. Its signature scene is a horribly authentic rendering of a full-on blowout: sweat, snogs and spew in a confined space.

Whenever you wonder whether the dramatizations can possibly be accurate, relevant quotes from Sue Gray’s report pop up to corroborate them. News clips are also spliced in to show us where we are on the Covid timeline, and to remind us of the extent of the catastrophe. The cold facts are sobering; to explore why they didn’t sober up 10 Downing Street, Bullman creates two fictional main characters, recent recruit Grace (Georgie Henley) and experienced operator Annabel (Ophelia Lovibond).

A recreation of a party in the garden at No 10.

A recreation of a party in the garden at No 10. Photograph: Jack Barnes/Channel 4

Partygate shares one of the key qualities of The Thick of It, which is not just portraying political professionals as unpleasant, interchangeable idiots but showing them playing their own private parlour game, never giving a thought to how policy affects people. Aside from when someone has to reply to the public’s tweets asking if they can have a Christmas party – absolutely not, the wonk responds, struggling to type because he’s hungover from a Downing Street Christmas party – the wellbeing of the masses does not intrude.

This film, however, gives voice to those who are not members of the club. We regularly cut to stark interviews with those whose irreplaceable final days with dying loved ones were compromised by what they thought were unbreakable rules.

Time is also taken to explore how the Covid booze-ups point to a blatantly rigged justice system: when they were eventually met with legal sanction, Johnson and his underlings were fined £50 each, but we meet ordinary people whose lives were ruined by fines of £10,000 or more.

The searing contempt and bruised regret in the tale it tells is a vital document of a moment of national shame.

AFAIK, all reviews are equally condemnatory and laudatory … :+1:

I shall be watching tonight.

And people still defended Johnson and thought he should never have been kicked out.

People still do and want him back.

The full extent of the appalling incompetence, corruption and behaviour of BJ’s Tory government during the COVID crisis has yet to be revealed but an authentic dramatization of the Sue Gray report will serve to remind those with short memories of just one disgraceful aspect of the ex-PM’s self-centred administration and prompt them to pay attention to the ongoing Coronavirus public inquiry and its almost unbelievable exposure of the irresponsibility and ineptitude of those in power.

I’ve come to the conclusion that many people like seeing that kind of thing. They somehow think that they want to be in that position one day, lording it over everyone, so they don’t want the system to change.

But I’ve also noticed that the people who think that, have no chance of getting there because the system is rigged against them. It’s odd that they don’t notice that part.

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I once saw an interview with a dirt poor redneck American who only ever voted republican. Challenged on that, especially regarding some form democrat instigated universal health care, he was hugely critical of what he saw as socialist policies. Even if those policies would have been beneficial to him. Strange. But the labelling of the policies was key and hugely influencing.

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The drama was watchable but somewhat confusing since most of the “characters” were only “supporting cast” at the time and, although some were briefly identified, I soon lost track of who was who and who was supposed to do what but preferred to party instead.

Nevertheless, the point was made - the government employees at No 10 Downing Street were drinking, dancing and singing while up to 1,000 people a day were dying of COVID … and BJ not only looked on, he joined in then lied in Parliament about the events.

Understandably (ie. to avoid legal issues), the main characters of Partygate have been fabricated.

That includes our protagonist Grace (Georgie Henley), a bright-eyed Special Advisor and Brexit enthusiast from the North-East who finds herself in Boris Johnson’s inner circle as the Covid-19 crisis strikes. As one of the only advisors without a private school background, she struggles to fit in and slowly sees the scales drop from her eyes over the course of the drama.

She’s joined by Ophelia Lovibond, who plays Annabel, Boris Johnson’s self-described “nanny” and diary keeper. She’s in charge of the office (which also means in charge of the parties) and is the person who first makes friends with Grace.

Don’t worry, though, plenty of the show’s secondary characters have been plucked straight from the headlines. That includes Charlotte Richie as Kate MacNamara, the former Deputy Cabinet Secretary, Rebecca Humphries as Carrie Johnson, Naomi Battrick as former aide Cleo Watson and Anthony Calf as Sir Mark Sidwell, former head of the Civil Service.

And last but not least: impressionist and Spitting Image alumnus Jon Culshaw as Boris Johnson himself. Culshaw’s face never appears in the documentary – his appearances are spliced in with footage of Boris himself – but he appears from the side, and his (spot-on) impression of Boris can be heard throughout the show.

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