Wednesday, 14 May 2014

A Very Social Secretary (2005)

The satirical drama that launched the More 4 Channel in 2005, A Very Social Secretary depicts the very public affair between then Home Secretary David Blunkett and Kimberley Quinn, the American socialite and magazine publisher.

Unfortunately Alistair Beaton's script goes for an often all too broad farcical swipe, accompanied by equally heavy handed direction, score and, in some cases, performances - some of the more cruder acting choices seem to be needlessly pitched at ear shattering levels. There's a shrill air to the proceedings that ultimately detracts from the potential of providing the good necessary drama and satirical content. It's not quite Carry On, Home Sec...but it's not far off, and sadly those creative decisions threaten to swamp what is at heart a very good performance from Bernard Hill as Blunkett, which nails the man's mannerisms and vocal inflections perfectly. The script and Hill's depiction goes to some depths to explore the nature of the man; he's presented as disabled but not downbeat, suggesting Blunkett's hard life ensured he made everything a fight, something that made for a degree of bullishness and obnoxiousness as seen in several key scenes. Yet beyond that there's a hapless air to the characterisation of the man, as he firmly believes his love is reciprocated, that one can't help feel a little sorry for him. It proves to be his downfall though as, blinded by love (no pun intended), he is shown to bend the rules to suit his own - and some characters point out as - hypocritical aims and thus loses sight of the promises he and his party made at grass roots level all those years ago.

Bernard Hill and Victoria Hamilton in A Very Social Secretary

And the real life figures they depict; Kimberley Quinn and David Blunkett

That said, the humour is a good enjoyable mix of the daft; Blunkett is shown to struggle with talking dirty to Kimberley during sex, shouting out words like 'Nipples' and 'Buttocks', and the cutting; The Blairs shamelessly enjoying the holiday homes of political and influential figures.

The menagerie of real life characters to lampoon throughout the film is almost limitless but its the supporting players Doon Mackichan and Robert Lindsay who naturally gain our attention playing as they do the Blairs. Mackichan is all gurning jaw and greed as Cherie Blair whilst Lindsay - no doubt cast as a meta joke for those of us old enough or with long memories to recall his breakthrough role as the would be left wing revolutionary Citizen Smith - makes for a somewhat bemused, hopelessly adrift and easily manipulated Tony Blair; a man who could not live without the advice or instruction of his wife, his spin doctor Alistair Campbell (Alex Jennings) or the new age dippy guru Caroline Caplin (Sara Stewart) despite their influence often leading him into hot water.

A Very Social Secretary isn't perfect but, as a satire against the government at the time - something which was surprisingly all too rare - it was an invaluable tonic. Lindsay would reprise the role of Blair for writer Beaton two years later for The Trial of Tony Blair, a drama set in the then future of 2010, depicting the PM on trial for war crimes. Unfortunately this still hasn't happened, yet.

PS: Look out too for a young Andrea Riseborough in a blink and you'll miss her role as Quinn's receptionist at The Spectator.

1 comment:

  1. As some of you may be aware much of what I review on here also features on the site Letterboxd. This review for example, was also posted on there. However, following the interesting email below, it now exists on there in a rather different form...

    Hi Mark,

    We have received a complaint about the content of your review of the film ‘A Very Social Secretary’. We would prefer not to have to remove the review, so we respectfully request that you remove any reference to factual statements concerning David Blunkett’s conduct.

    Unfortunately, if you aren’t willing or able to remove these statements within the next 24 hours, we will be forced to remove the review in its entirety, under clause 6 of our terms of use (

    We appreciate your timely response to the matter, and apologise for the intrusion.

    kind regards,

    —Matthew Buchanan, Letterboxd HQ