It might be the early scene, right after his former boss brands him a man without dignity, when he’s heard frolicking off-camera with a giggling Carrie Symonds. “Power is an aphrodisiac,” he roars, “and absolute power is um, ah … aphrodisiacal!”
Or it might be the moment near the end of the opening episode of This England, right after the first Covid deaths in Europe, when a scientist on TV theorises on the likely speed of infection spread and Boris groans: “It’s a bit like homework, isn’t it?” Carrie disagrees and he quips: “I’m more of a Carry On man myself. Carry On Doctor. Carry On Up the Khyber. Heh heh … Carrie on Prime Minister. Boom-boom!”
There are other tricky interludes, and possibly excruciating ones to come in the next five instalments of Michael Winterbottom’s Sky Atlantic drama about the Johnson Government’s handling of the pandemic’s first wave.
A prosthetic-wearing Kenneth Branagh effortlessly captures Boris’s bumptiousness and bullock charges through No 10, but the man himself will almost certainly join the chorus claiming it’s too soon to be replaying the horrors of Covid.
Mind you, Dominic Cummings comes off worse in the show’s opening 80 minutes. Simon Paisley Day seems to be channelling Lawrence Olivier’s dentist from Marathon Man for a chilling impersonation of the PM’s senior adviser.
“Demonic” Cummings, the bully in a beanie, excoriates MPs, civil servants, spads, the staff he’s sacking, the ones he’ll be sacking very soon. These will be replaced with “young people with extreme curiosity, never went to university, true wild cards, weirdos from William Gibson novels”. These super-forecasters and data geniuses will help reshape government, so it doesn’t get distracted by “events”.
Pesky things, they just get in the way. Such an event is Storm Dennis. Should the PM visit the flood-hit? “No, no, no,” insists Cummings. Such an event is 83 Brits being flown back from Wuhan, the Covid epicentre. Cummings is furious their quarantining is leaked on Brexit Day, saying: “We don’t want News at Ten splashing on a bunch of nobodies being driven to the Wirral.”
The editing is gruesome. Boris boasting 2020 will be all about “prosperity, growth, hope” then a cut to bats being chopped up for the dinner table. And, on a bed behind a net, is that a desperate Covid victim? No, just Carrie protected from mosquitoes on that controversial Mustique holiday.
Played by Ophelia Lovibond, Carrie must hide being pregnant with Wilfred – “like Mrs Rochester, the madwoman in the attic” – until Boris tells his other children. She tries to warn the PM about Demonic: “They hate him. You’ll be guilty by association.” The scenes between them can be read as an attempt to humanise Boris, although with him we’re only ever five seconds away from a classical reference or a gag.
Andrew Buchan is Matt Hancock, who admires the PPE on hospital staff, calling it “very E.T”. In No 10 he bumps into Boris on another charge. The PM says he’ll chair the next emergency meeting, telling the health secretary: “This virus, need to keep an eye on it.” Cue a smirk from Hancock, which would seem to translate as “about bloody time”.