We have all been mourning the loss of new stage plays from top British playwrights, although Sir David Hare has written his coronavirus monologue Beat the Devil, which was recently staged at the Bridge Theatre.
However, for those in need (and aren’t we all), one of our greatest living playwrights has written a new four-part series for the BBC, which is simultaneously incisive and characteristic.
Roadkill is a contemporary political drama featuring Hugh Laurie as Peter Laurence, an amoral Tory minister, who starts out running Transport but swiftly gets “promoted” to Justice by PM Dawn Ellison, played by Helen McCrory.
One imagines that, when the script is published, it will contain the usual disclaimers that none of the characters are based on anyone living or dead. Believe that at your peril.
He might not have a blonde, shaggy wig but Peter Laurence will inevitably remind viewers of another Tory grandee, while Dawn Ellison as a prim, proper but somewhat limited female Prime Minister from the same party has echoes of at least one recent leader, who faced similar kinds of behind-the-scenes shenanigans as her own party planned a night of the long knives.
This series, which runs to around three and three-quarter hours, makes for compelling viewing. There are so many twists and turns, some a little outlandish but many far too believable given all of the stories that have been published in the press over the last few years.
It opens as our hero or anti-hero, take your pick, celebrates victory in a libel case that even his imponderably young QC played by Pippa Bennett Warner believes was based on a series of carefully rehearsed lies.
The Minister’s private life is little better, maintaining not only a family home with Saskia Reeves as his long-suffering, choral conducting wife but also a second home with a Danish expat, ironically played by Sidse Babett Knudsen, whose CV includes a prime ministerial role in Borgen.
A couple of troubled daughters would be enough to exercise most men, but Peter Laurence discovers that his third (of whom he was unaware at the start of the series) is even worse off, serving the final two years of a prison sentence for a £1 million bank fraud. Shalom Brune-Franklin in this role proves to be one of the stars of the series.
As the politician’s career moves onwards and upwards, Sarah Greene takes the role of an Irish journalist who attempts to retrieve her own career at the expense of his during a bold jaunt to Washington that ends in tears.
Then there are those highly influential “special advisers” who seem to have more power than many ministers, in this case brought to glorious life by Olivia Vinall and Iain De Caestecker.
While there is an excess of drama and much more illicit sex, as required for any prime-time BBC TV series, Sir David Hare does a wonderful job of portraying the backstage machinations that have become de rigueur in political circles around the world today at the same time delivering a wholly convincing portrait of a populist politician in his pomp.
Two quotes say it all. “You can get away with anything if you just brazen it out” and “Always put the past behind you”.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher