Review of Black Mirror – ‘The National Anthem’

Neela Debnath

Black Mirror Ep 1 5 300x200 Review of Black Mirror – ‘The National Anthem’SPOILERS: Do not read this if you have not seen 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 4

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  • Joshua Shaw

    It seems like you’ve gone into this expecting a sitcom with an edge. The term black comedy doesn’t mean this. Its simply an exaggeration of current staples of media and politics. All of which ring true. The initial point of it being self indulgent is completely unfounded, Charlie Brooker has always downplayed his own significance in modern media but has always been forthright and honest with his views regarding the topic. Self indulgent seems to be a term that you’ve used to put a negative label but really it makes no sense

  • Jon BG

    The success or otherwise of Black Mirror rather depends on the individual’s capacity to have their disbelief suspended. Far be it from me to question the ‘genius’ that is Charlie Brooker, but you have to be some sort of moron to see this as any sort of satire. Black Mirror comes over more as an excuse for a humiliation fantasy aimed at Cameron, than a comment on ‘us’ in the era of social media. 

    The plot – such as it is – is well and truly lost when we see a pub full of drinkers laughing and eagerly waiting to watch the PM f**k a pig on live TV. As the hapless PM engages in the act, we see a group of health workers gawping at the images in a combination of mild shock and lurid curiosity. It simply didn’t stand up. 

    But crucially, where it falls flat – and presumably where Brooker was trying to satirise the Gordon Brown affair – was the persuasion of the fictional PM by his civil servant that he would have to go ahead with the deed. While Brown had to humiliate himself, he was in the throes of an election, whereas this PM was not. He was somehow persuaded that having doing the deed to save a kidnap victim would play fantastically well in the court of public opinion, whereas should the victim die, somehow, he would be held blameworthy. Well that’s just nonsense and actually rather offensive to the public at large. 

    What’s more it is asking a lot to compare saying sorry to a blameless voter with televised porcine copulation. 

  • Joshua Shaw

    Your not as clever as you want to be. That last sentence is so tedious

  • Zozus

    Jeeze, everyone takes it so seriously. Although there was a serious and thought provoking element to it, it made me laugh in several places and it was an interesting thought. There have been sick videos posted online before, with people getting their heads hacked off and it was watched a stupid amount of times. The main idea is very interesting and infact I believe quite scary and quite true of how society would react. It’s not supposed to be taken as some kind oh Hollywood blockbuster movie let down its a drama about a PM bonking a pig. LMAO. Lighten up guys!!!

  • MattCornell12

    Well then your are disturbed if you find that funny

  • Dan Southgate

    Although the points about social networking are valid, I don’t think I’ve seen anything mentioning that when we find out the princess was released onto the streets of london half an hour prior to the 4 o clock broadcast deadline, that she could have been easily found and the act could have been called off . Except the streets were empty, because everybody was inside. Watching a man. Have sex. With a pig. Thats the statement.

  • jacobbaker

    ^ Unnecessary response.

  • Thomas Whitehead

    Not at all.

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