Review of Black Mirror – ‘The National Anthem’
From the brilliantly warped mind of Charlie Brooker comes a darkly comic tale that explores the power of social media.
The story follows the British Prime Minister Michael Callow (Rory Kinnear) who gets caught up in a media storm after a hostage video featuring the nation’s sweetheart Princess Susannah (Lydia Wilson) appears on YouTube. The ransom for the safe return of the princess is that the Premier must have sex with a pig live on national television.
The story was partly inspired by the events surrounding Gordon Brown’s apology to Gillian Duffy after he was heard making unguarded remarks about her on a live microphone. The power was swiftly taken out of his hands and dictated by the media. Throughout ‘The National Anthem’ there is the strong message that once information is disseminated on the internet and into the public domain it is out of the hands of the gatekeepers; there is no way that it can be controlled or manipulated by them.
There is no doubt as to the power of Twitter, for example, there have been cases of thousands of people deliberately breaching super-injunctions through their tweets while news organisations have remained gagged. Or more specifically, the amplified hatred towards Jan Moir for her appalling column on the death of Stephen Gately. Both highlight how the online collective consciousness can set the agenda. Brooker has even said in the past that he regretted writing a column criticising Moir for her column because he realised that he was merely adding fuel to the raging Twitter bonfire. Although the plot of ‘The National Anthem’ takes the idea of this power into the realm of the absurd the point still stands.
The biggest twist was at the end when it emerged that the kidnapper was a Turner Prize-winning artist who orchestrated the whole thing in order to create a piece of artwork. Indeed, towards the close, a reporter says that the event can be considered to be the first great artwork of the 21st century. It was an event that was watched by 1.3 billion people and essentially something that everyone took part in. Is Brooker making a wry comment about the state of contemporary art?
This carefully crafted and compact drama is engrossing, with the tension rising by degrees as the time moves ever closer for the PM to meet the kidnapper’s demands. It comes across as being anti-Twitter but also serves as a cautionary tale about the power of the collective ‘hive mind’ that is social media. It takes no prisoners, particularly those in the public eye. Kinnear gives a good performance as the PM but the strength lies with Lindsay Duncan as the steely Home Secretary Alex Cairns. She exudes a political savvy and coldness to the situation that helps to maintain the serious tone of the whole piece, it is only the viewer who will be laughing at the surreal premise.
‘The National Anthem’ is the first tale in an unholy trinity of twisted parables that present dystopian visions of the future and play on the anxieties surrounding technology. Partly inspired by ‘The Twilight Zone’ and ‘Tales of the Unexpected’, they are three self-contained stories that will make audiences question the world they live in.
Next week is ‘15 Million Merits’ which has been co-written by Brooker and his wife Kanak ‘Konnie’ Huq. It is a satirical poke at reality television and our insatiable appetite for distraction.
For more information about the series, click here
Image credit: Channel 4Tagged in: charlie brooker, konnie huq, science fiction, twitter
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