And now for something completely different politically. Yes, I’m going back to Black Mirror and what better episode to talk about in the Politic-a-Thon than The National Anthem, the episode involving the Prime Minister shagging a pig.
The plot of the episode concerns not-Kate Middleton being kidnapped and the ransom demand is for the PM to shag a pig on live TV. Right from the start you get this really insane, disturbing vibe from the episode simply due to how disturbed the whole plot of the episode is. This really disturbed sensibility continues throughout the episode and by the time the PM ends up doing the act you are just as disturbed by what is happening as the characters. The great thing is that you never actually know until it happens whether or not the PM will end up shagging the pig. The big twist at the end concerning the artist is a really brilliant twist and made a lot of sense, especially since they set the whole thing up at the start of the episode and there are constant references to art throughout, from the Turner Prize to Dogme ’95.
The acting in the episode is uniformly excellent. Rory Kinnear is excellent as the PM. You see the despair and fear in his eyes over what he has to do and his desperation over trying to find any other way to sort out the problem. Lindsay Duncan is also great as an aide to the PM who also tries to find another way for the problem to be sorted out but feels a bit more sinister concerning the lengths she goes to to try and both stop the PM from doing the act and eventually cover it up. There are also great performances by Donald Sumpter, Allen Leech and Anna Wilson-Jones in quite small but pivotal roles showing the reaction to what the PM is doing from the perspective of the government, the public and the PM’s family respectively.
Finally there is the way the episode presents the act. Throughout the episode we see the constant build-up to the act, with constant reference to how social media has more free reign to report news stories than the TV news networks due to the anonymity of social media and the censorship restrictions of TV. When it finally comes time for the act to be shown, Brooker wisely decides to not show the act (unlike other pieces of media), instead focusing on the public reaction. We know it is a horrific event that people just can’t look away from, kind of like a train crash, shown by the way all the people are disgusted by the act, despite all the excitement and jokes they made about it. This idea is funny in theory but you can’t help but be disgusted when you actually see the act performed.
Overall, The National Anthem was the perfect episode to introduce the world of Black Mirror. By combining elements of politics, social satire and artistic debate, Charlie Brooker perfectly set up the surreal tone of Black Mirror that continued throughout every other episode in the series.
My Rating: 5/5