The Hunt for Tony Blair, Channel 4, Friday
Signed by Katie Price, Sky Living, Monday
Bush is a hoodlum, Maggie a Norma Desmond diva – and Blair and Mandelson a pitch-perfect joy
Sunday 16 October 2011
'How many more of these damned books are we going to get?" scowled Robbie Coltrane's hard-boiled detective, throwing down a pile of New Labour memoirs, in The Hunt for Tony Blair.
To which you might have added: "How many more of these damned screenplays are we going to get?" After all, the manipulations and mishaps of the Blair years have been mined for countless documentaries, docudramas, satires and Michael Sheen showcases in recent years. Is there any comment left unmade?
Maybe not, though that seemed academic in the face of the Comic Strip's tour de farce. The sketch troupe who stoked the fires of alternative comedy in the 1980s, they're probably best remembered for The Strike, their recasting of the miners' dispute as an Al Pacino blockbuster.
This one-off reunion, organised by writer/director Peter Richardson, benefited from a similarly, er, hyper-real approach to current(ish) affairs. Thought you knew our Tony? Then what about our Tony as an anti-hero in a film-noir pastiche?
So, it began with Stephen Mangan's PM grinning in the face of an arrest warrant on the doorstep of No 10. And before you could walk 39 steps, he was on the run: cue strangers on trains (well, drunken socialists), third men (well, Peter Mandelson) and Tony's grandiloquent voiceover ("Hey, in the end, only God and history can judge me") swelling in tandem with the "unavoidable" body count.
Bombastic stuff, then, which often teetered on the brink of satiric meltdown. No matter the transposition of Nineties/Noughties politics to a 1950s setting, or a plot that hurtled between Weapons of Mass Destruction, Cool Britannia and Carole Caplin with headless-chicken abandon. What about the scabrous character makeovers? George W Bush as a gravel-voiced hoodlum and Maggie Thatcher (Jennifer Saunders) a foundation-caked Norma Desmond-ish diva forcing her spiritual successor into bed?
Its masterstroke, conversely, was to make its central duo so eminently recognisable. As Mandelson, Nigel Planer gave a lesson in the art of interpretation, not impersonation, exactly capturing Mandy's saturnine inscrutability. Equally, Mangan was a joy: less precise, but channelling a strain of pompous self-regard that brought those old Tony Blair/David Brent comparisons flooding back.
Indeed, the script was never funnier than when nailing the narcissism of the long-distance politician. Some of which you really couldn't make up: when Blair wistfully segued into a lone-ranger soliloquy ("I knew I was alone ... there would be them; and there would be me") or pondered John Smith's death ("I will be leader, not Gordon. And I think somehow this will happen"), it was gleeful to note that these lines were lifted wholesale from his memoirs.
Mind you, it might be considered harsh for Richardson to have made the ex-PM responsible for the deaths of both Smith and Robin Cook; a Blair witch-hunt like no other. But then, daft, angry and lovingly rendered, this was a political comedy like no other. The Comic Strip may be 30 years old, but, gloriously, it's grown no less anarchic with age.
From one narcissist to another, the return of the artist formerly known as Jordan with Signed by Katie Price. After the masterful post-literary dabbling of Katie: The Magazine, she's now out to conquer the talent-show – while stretching the concept to new limits in her search for an acolyte similarly devoted to undressing, mono-tonal mantras, and "being a brand".
But might her own "brand" have reached an impasse? Last week's shopping centre auditions bore the whiff of desperate researchers plucking contestants from the pick'n'mix queue, while those hypnotically impassive features do not lend themselves to this most emotive of genres. Though the final indignity came with Price being rattled by one auditionee: a "sexy" philosophy lecturer looking to escape her academic "cage". Was this the horrific endpoint of Price's own philosophy? Or its ironic ridicule? Oh, the confusion! That tentative eyebrow flutter spoke volumes.
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