TV review - Boris Johnson: the Irresistible Rise offered something more than just entertainment, BBC2

Wodehouse in Exile, BBC4

Eddie Mair might have pulled the trigger on Sunday morning, but Michael Cockerell fashioned the weapon and loaded the chamber. Boris Johnson: the Irresistible Rise, the latest of Cockerell's political profiles, would hardly have been a dull programme under any circumstances – its subject being incapable of opening his mouth without expelling a frivolity. But, with the help of Boris's cheerfully indiscreet sister, Rachel, it offered something more than just entertainment. The public will forgive a man who makes them laugh virtually anything. But whether Boris's political colleagues will care to test that proposition after this film is another matter.

It was a programme full of clever, unshowy story-telling, starting with the emblematic opening sequence of Boris playing tennis with his brothers and sisters, flailing about with an ancient wooden tennis racket. What you saw summed him up – a complete indifference to sartorial dignity, a naked flame of competitive instinct and a dogged commitment to the archaic, usually expressed by his vocabulary but here signified by a racket that looked as if it had been stored behind a radiator since 1936. How much power could such a comically amateurish object achieve, you might ask, which is pretty much the question that gets asked about Boris too, who has clowned his way to a point where it isn't regarded as risible to discuss the prospect of him getting the Prime Ministership. He always denies it, of course, quite aware that just as much as the public like politicians who make them laugh, they dislike those who conspicuously scheme for power. So it was one of Cockerell's coups to get him to admit to a hankering for the job, in typically Boris manner: "If that ball came loose from the back of a scrum, which it won't, it would be a great thing to have a crack at."

Cockerell's other achievement was to put all the serious charges to Johnson without coming across as priggish. He did it, rather tellingly, with a pincer movement of flat-screen televisions, surrounding Boris with monitors that played out moments of historical humiliation, whether it was being recorded agreeing to help a friend beat up a troublesome journalist or the exposure of his serial infidelities. At those points, the mask of joviality slipped and you caught sight of an unnerving solipsism. Asked what he felt on hearing himself collude in a planned assault, he said: "Obviously, I feel indignation that people tape my private phone conversations." And he blocked questioning about his affairs with, "All that turned out for the best in my view." As long as it was good for you, Boris. I thought it forensically exposing of Johnson's sense of entitlement and ethical recklessness (Cockerell also nailed him in a prevarication over the Bullingdon Club). But then again, that's been exposed before without doing him lasting damage.

Oddly, P G Wodehouse's ability to make people laugh did not protect him from public opprobrium after he recorded some humorous broadcasts during his internment by the Germans during the Second World War. Nigel Williams's drama Wodehouse in Exile was the case for the defence (deliberately suppressed by the Government after the war). Essentially, it was a plea of not guilty by reason of incapacity – Wodehouse presented here as a kind of overgrown child, so devoid of malice and calculation that he simply couldn't recognise when he was being duped. Tim Pigott-Smith was touching as Plum, dismayed to find that what he thought was a show of stiff upper lip was taken as betrayal. But the drama was often far too direct in its manner. It doesn't get you off the hook if you end one of those scenes in which one party tells the other what they already know, with, "Do I have to spell it out for you?" – it just beds the hook deeper.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Cillian Murphy stars as Tommy Shelby in Peaky Blinders

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
There are no plans to replace R Kelly at the event

music
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain