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UKIP: The First 100 Days, Channel 4, review: a sad, predictable, desperate hatchet job

Plus: J.K. Rowling reveals her grisly Stalinist social agenda in BBC One’s The Casual Vacancy and a Downton Tikka Masla from Channel 4

21 February 2015

9:00 AM

21 February 2015

9:00 AM

Just three months into Ukip’s shock victory as the party of government and already Nigel Farage’s mob are starting to show their true colours: morris dancing has been made compulsory for every able-bodied male between the age of 30 and 85; in ruthlessly enforced union flag street parties, brown-skinned people are made to show their loyalty by eating red-, white- and blue-coloured Battenberg cakes until they explode. And what is that acrid smell of burnt fur now polluting Britain’s hitherto gloriously carbon-free air? Why it is all the kittens that Nigel Farage and his evil henchmen are tossing on to beacons from John O’Groats to Land’s End in order to demonstrate that Ukip are the masters now.

Though I think I’ve just about done justice to the hysterical tone of Channel 4’s dystopian mockumentary UKIP: The First 100 Days (Monday), what I fear I’ve failed to capture is the aching predictability, ineptitude and boringness of this sad and desperate hatchet job.

It was couched as a mock fly-on-the-wall documentary in which a journalist trailed Ukip’s first female Sikh MP as the stones began to fall from her eyes and she came gradually to realise that the party she’d joined were nothing but a bunch of horrid racists, supported mainly by horrid white working-class closet BNP voters, on a mission to take the whole of Britain back in time to the era of the Queen’s Silver Jubilee.

But this all said rather more about the cultural and political assumptions of the filmmakers than it did about Ukip. In a scene depicting what was supposed to be a ‘far-right rally’, for example, protestors were shown brandishing an Israeli flag. When it needed real-life exemplars of wisdom, probity and insight to act as a kind of chorus to explain how awful Ukip were, the ones it wheeled on were Nick Clegg and Diane Abbott. As for its depictions of White Van Man — these might just as well have come straight from the Twitter feed of Emily Thornberry. Channel 4 may have thought they were hammering Ukip. Instead, they will have acted as its recruiting sergeant.

The Casual Vacancy (BBC1, Sunday) suffered from a similar disjunction between the politics of its creative team (led by author J.K. Rowling) and those of its middle-class target audience. Take the scene where the parish council in the pretty Cotswold market town of Pagford is meeting to discuss the future of the local food bank/counselling/addiction treatment centre. There are plans to turn it into a boutique hotel and spa. But then a worthy social-worker type played by Rory Kinnear stands up to lecture us on why this is wrong.

‘Parish councils are not here to make a quick buck for somebody who already has more than enough,’ he declares. Warming to his theme, he says that trying to discourage the smack addicts from the nearby estate from coming into the village is like apartheid — or worse. ‘Herding people into ghettos because they don’t fit the aesthetic. There’s a name for that, isn’t there,’ he says, suddenly noticing a convenient war veteran. ‘Bill, you stormed the Normandy beaches, fighting Fascism. Look at what’s happening here…’

Michael Gambon as Howard Mollison in The Casual Vacancy

So what can definitely be said for The Casual Vacancy is the fascinating insight it offers into the political mindset of Harry Potter’s creator. Why, she’s so bonkers left she makes Tony Benn look like Norman Tebbit.

But it’s those ‘snooty’ villagers who are right, not the ghastly social-worker character. Of course it makes sense to move the food bank and the addiction centre nearer to where it’s needed. And why should a picturesque village be forced to scuzzify itself (and lose the tourist income that might otherwise have enriched the community) just to indulge the grisly Stalinist social agenda of a children’s author who has, to coin a phrase, ‘more than enough’.

Over on Channel 4 in the same Sunday-night slot is Indian Summers, an epic new last-days-of-the-Raj drama beginning in 1932. It looks fantastic: attractive women perspiring heavily in close-fitting period costumes; steam trains (probably the same one from A Passage To India and The Raj Quartet); a sumptuous recreation of the leafy hill station of Simla.

What let it down slightly, though, are the dialogue and lapses of tone. It has clearly been pitched as a sort of Downton Tikka Masala and everything is ever so slightly hammy and dumbed down, starting with Julie Walters — who has landed the Maggie Smith role as the eccentric grande dame around whom everything revolves and whom we are required to find loveably hilarious.

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