It’s been nearly two years since the Boris Johnson premiership began to disintegrate against allegations of pandemic parties in Downing Street. The impact of the scandal both on Johnson’s reputation and public trust in the present government reverberates. But with the facts now outlined publicly in the Sue Gray report, Channel 4 have chosen to dramatise the events in all their galling detail.
There is something deeply triggering about this one-off drama
There is something deeply triggering about this one-off drama. The factually based though semi-fictionalised (the fictionalisation mostly pertains to the characters here, rather than the true-to-life plot) programme is interchanged with stories of real people which resonate strongly. Tales of grief, heartache and loss experienced by so many. And most importantly, tales of people sticking by the rules in good faith, that so simple of principles which appears to have gone wanting in No. 10.
Scenes are reanimated in exact detail
The skill of this programme comes in its constant reference to the Gray report which investigated Partygate. This is not some half-baked hit job on Johnson, who in fact features rarely and only ever in shadowed silhouettes. Scenes are reanimated in exact detail, even those that don’t refer to alleged events or character descriptions. And nor does this drama merely seek the ruling Conservative Party as its main culprit. Offending civil servants, such as former ethics chief Helen Macnamara and Covid taskforce head Kate Josephs, also receive fair dues.
Whilst its scope is mostly limited to Partygate, the real-life experiences it calls on are pertinent and aptly timed. There are tales of limited funerals to much-loved family members and goodbyes on Zoom to a dying teenager. The question of one rule for them and another for everyone else is also exposed on the question of fines. Whilst the fixed penalty notices of Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak were capped at just £50, the drama details the stories of those forced to pay thousands for rather more innocuous breaches, with the overall average believed to be £6,000. We were all in this together, were we not?
For all its focus on factuality and accuracy, the narrative is actually led by two entirely fictionalised characters. Grace Greenwood (Georgie Henley) becomes the uncomfortable hero of this piece, the SpAd (or ‘special advisor’ to you and me) who it is intimated eventually leaks videos of Partygate. I say uncomfortable because she epitomises everything Johnsonism sought to be. Hailing from Darlington with a loathing for globalisation, she is the Red Wall incarnate, but becomes despondent at the unapologetic rule breaking. In Annabel D’acre (Ophelia Lovibond), she finds no solace. D’acre becomes suspicious of Grace’s antipathy and general do-goodyness. In curt and Machiavellian tones, she warns Greenwood of the consequences of leaking or speaking out. Thankfully for our story, she is not deterred.
The price of the Covid sacrifice will never be repaid
Perhaps there was always some need for a saviour in the piece, but what is troubling is the degree to which the whole system withheld complaint or even concern over the rule breaking. They are perhaps not without some defence; maybe some were not parties or didn’t involve actual partying, or maybe Boris Johnson was ‘ambushed’ with cake. But as each story lays onto another, the hefty case against the now ex-Prime Minister and MP (he resigned from the latter post following a subsequent Privileges Committee report into Partygate) weighs large.
Careful, considered and crucially not vindictive, Partygate makes a convincing case for the Johnson government’s admonishment. Yes, at least there have been some reparations for this blatant rule breaking. But, in reality, the price of the Covid sacrifice will never be repaid.