This Was

Awhile back, I watched This England, a dramatization of the UK government’s response to the earliest days of COVID. It was a big deal when it aired in the UK last year, in part because no-one could seem to agree on whether or not it was too kind to those in power; the left-wing press thought it was too soft, the right-wing press that it was very fair. So it goes.

For my money, I think accusations of it being too soft were off-base, just as the “very fair” belief betrays biases in another direction. It’s clear that the government were unprepared and incompetent, and that Boris Johnson himself unable to connect with the gravity of the situation even before it was clear how deadly the virus really was.

A bigger problem for the show, though, was how uncomfortably shallow it proved to be, and unable to properly communicate the scope of what was happening. On the one hand, that’s to be expected given how impossibly overwhelming everything was — how can any show sum that up? — but the methods the show attempts feel trivial and tacky: overlapping audio from newscasters offering exposition, while a graphic ticks up the number of cases in big red letters.

More than anything, it reminds me of Years and Years, the Russell T. Davies show that kept jumping ahead in time as things got progressively worse. It’s a weird parallel, because that show — made in 2019, before all of this happened — was something I thought of repeatedly throughout 2020 and 2021, as if it had been soothsaying rather than entertainment.

This England’s inability to live up to reality transformed art into life into art again, in the broadest terms. In its own way, the journey might be the most interesting thing about it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.