The night is dark and full of terrors, an austere winter is coming and when you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you end up softly weeping in an IT suite. There is no middle ground.
May 2010. The British public has gone to the polls and returned an indecisive election result. Neither of the main parties have achieved enough seats to form a majority government. The burdensome role of kingmaker falls onto the shoulders of an idealistic and handsome prince by the name of Nick Clegg. The leader of the Labour Party, Gordon Brown, very Scottish and moody with it, has lost the love of the people and yet hopes to cling to power by forming an allegiance with the Liberal Democrats, their ancient allies. However, the chinless champion of the Conservatives, David Cameron, the force of destiny weighing heavily on his heart, has different plans.
How Clegg treads through these treacherous waters will determine the fate of a nation, not to mention electoral reform, which he can’t stop blubbering on about every forty seconds.
For a contemporary drama Coalition is distinctly lacking in cynicism. None of these politicians apparently have egos; all they want is the greatest good for the country they love so dearly. This gets very tiresome, very quickly. Thank God then for Peter Mandelson (an uncannily accurate portrayal by Mark Gatiss) who slithers around Westminster oozing a snail-trail of chicanery and slime behind him who lights up the screen with a blaze of sinister trickiness. At one point, he looms onto stage in a puff of dry ice and someone refers to him as the Prince of Darkness. I’m not joking.
But if Mandelson is ridiculous, Paddy Ashdown, played by Donald Sumpter, is genuinely surreal. The elder statesman spends the entire run time observing the action with saddened, war-weary eyes like Banquo’s ghost at the feast. Even when Clegg’s in his private office trying to get on with making phone calls, Ashdown is there. Reproachful. Creepy. Presumably uninvited.
At one point, I realised that people moved passed Ashdown as if he didn’t exist and he was only ever shown speaking in direct conversation with Clegg himself. I started to wonder if perhaps if Ashdown was a figment of Clegg’s imagination. Perhaps Ashdown symbolised Clegg’s conflicted conscience? Or perhaps he was a manifestation of an impending psychotic break? After all, Clegg does spend an inordinate amount of time staring out of windows at nothing, muttering to himself about ‘real change’ without ever defining what that might entail like a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
But as it turns out, Ashdown wasn’t a symbolic figure of the darker side of Cleggmania. He’s just a man who the Liberal Democrats all apparently respect. And so it is left to Ashdown to settle the nerves of the mutinous Lib Dem troops and seal the fate of the country by encouraging them to sign up for the coalition agreement with a rip-roaring speech which actually ends; “Fuck it, let’s do it.”
“Huzzah! Huzzah!” The Liberal Democrat MPs chant, and march cheerfully to their doom.
In a nutshell, Coalition is awkward, cloying and sometimes outright disorientating. It’s not even interesting enough to warrant the one and a quarter hour run time. But in fairness, with the material Graham had to work with, he can’t exactly be blamed for any of that.
Coalition is currently available on My4.