Sunday, 29 March 2015

Coalition (2015)

"After 100 yards, turn right"

This instruction from a satnav device would seem a fairly innocuous, everyday remark normally, but it occurs here in a car carrying Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg on the day after the 2010 election - a day when he had to decide to throw his lot in with the Conservatives, a Party seemingly ideologically opposed to everything the Liberal Democrats stand for.

It's that kind of knowing humour (there's a scene where Mark Gatiss' vampiric Peter Mandelson steps out from a pall of dry ice smoke in a TV studio and David Cameron, considering partnership with the Liberals, walks behind green glass) that shapes Coalition, James Graham's playful film about the formation of the present government and makes it a stablemate of the previous somewhat tongue in cheek political dramas Channel 4 has made such as A Very Social Secretary and The Trial of Tony Blair

Personally I'd rather have had a bit more weight to this recreation of that tumultuous and decisive time in May 2010 taken from several accounts from political figures who witnessed it at first hand, but that's not to say Graham (acclaimed playwright of 70s set political play This House) doesn't give us some flashes of drama and emotion and, in the three lead characters of Cameron, Clegg and Brown, actors Mark Dexter, Bertie Carvel and Ian Grieve (who had previously played Brown on the stage) get the chance to shine with Carvel depicting a man who throws his principles out with the bathwater at the first dazzling sight of power, whilst Dexter fidgets and frets on the precipice of securing his ambition. It's perhaps Grieve who secures the most range and, in turn he is obtuse and oafishly comedic, yet ultimately somewhat tragic and sympathetic; a man of principle who seems unable to convey them effectively thanks to his unfortunate dour manner and poor social skills, is how Graham seems to see Brown's character. He's not the only man of principle on display here - Donald Sumpter hovers around the proceedings like the spectre at the feast in his role as former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown, his concerned and cautious eye on his young protege Clegg. On the whole though, it's Mark Gatiss who steals much of the film as Peter Mandelson, with the thin smiles and snooty air he has employed so successfully in similar Machiavellian characters such as Mycroft in Sherlock.

But these are broad brushstroke performances in a film that doesn't seem certain about whether it wants to be a comedic satire or a straight representation of the events and ultimately it falls between two stools. A little more insight wouldn't have gone amiss either - we're told Graham sourced several first hand accounts but there's little behind these closed doors of Whitehall that we as an audience couldn't already guess at and the notion that we got to where we are now through a series of social faux pas, poor body language and half baked promises feels potentially believable but still seems rather depressingly mundane.

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