The BBC2 series, which starts this week, is based on the acclaimed novel by Alan Hollinghurst, which won the Man Booker Prize in 2004. It chronicles the experiences of Nick Guest, a gay Oxford graduate who finds himself lodging with a Conservative MP. He lives a debauched life of wealth, sex and cocaine as he mixes with fellow young Tories at the height of the 1980s boom.
In one scene he dances with Margaret Thatcher while high on cocaine, shortly before taking part in a threesome with two other men. This has outraged those Conservatives who were addicted to nothing more than monetarism at the time. They always had their suspicions about the pinkoes at the BBC, and now they can accuse them of rewriting Tory history with a Blairite spin.
The MP Ann Widdecombe yesterday said the corporation was being "mischievous" in its depiction of the Tories. "The day that the BBC gives the Conservative Party a fair deal will be the day that I fall over in a dead faint ... Anyone who tries to attach today's values to the world of 20 years ago is simply not being historically true. This does not sound to me like a faithful reflection of the Tory party that I knew at that time."
The former Tory cabinet minister John Redwood said: "If you want to see champagne lifestyles, then you want to go to the Blairite government. The programme-makers forget that Thatcherism was all about giving opportunity to people who hadn't had any before."
This is not the work of a left-wing agitator, however. The series has been adapted by the accomplished screenwriter Andrew Davies, who has won acclaim and awards for series such as Pride and Prejudice and Bleak House, as well as films such as Bridget Jones's Diary. It mostly stars newcomers, but features Blackadder and Notting Hill star Tim McInnerny as MP Gerald Fedden.
Some Tories have praised the adaptation. Alan Duncan, the shadow Secretary of State for Trade and the Tories' first openly gay MP, said: "I think it's really enlightened of the BBC to do this. I suppose there are many interesting themes in the book. The repressed sexuality, the allure of Margaret Thatcher, the glory of being in office, the whirl of a time of moral reappraisal all comes out in the book. It is so persuasive and realistic. It was asking to be put on television."He did not believe the work would be offensive to the party. "I can't think of anyone currently in the mainstream of the party who would be the least bit bothered."
A BBC spokeswoman defended the decision to make the drama, which begins on Wednesday. She said: "This is an adaptation of an award-winning work of fiction - we're not presenting it as a reality-based account of what happened at that time. It's up to the audience to take from it what they will. It's a very powerful and important piece of work."
Ben Summerskill, chief executive of the gay lobby group Stonewall, welcomed the adaptation but said there was still more scope to reflect the lives of gay people more generally on screen.
"It is an extraordinarily good book and that is why the space is made for it," he said. "But there is still an issue about the writing and commissioning communities at the BBC feeling able to suggest dramas that include gay people in their normal lives."
- More about:
- Ann Widdecombe
- Conservative Party
- Man Booker Prize
- Margaret Thatcher