blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Black Mirror (2011) s01e01 – The National Anthem

I spent all of The National Anthem waiting for someone—anyone—to turn to the camera and say, “David William Donald Cameron.” Hell, they could’ve done an animated Peppa Pig saying it. But "Black Mirror" started in 2011, when the world was a much different place. Not just Cameron, but in the intervening years, the whole British Prime Minister office doesn’t come with much regard (or even less regard than before). And "Mirror" is all about commenting on technology and its effect on the world. I assume the title refers to screens; I’m not Googling… right now.

Writer (and co-showrunner) Charlie Brooker thought way too much of people. He attributed much more grace to the species than we deserve.

That observation made, it’s a perfectly reasonable example of absurdist comedy done straight-faced as prestige television. To some degree, Brooker’s definitely making people talk about the episode’s “big twist”–"Black Mirror" probably led to spell-checkers no longer squiggle-lining meta, which they might’ve still done back in 2011.

Politely put—I mean, Google David Cameron and "Black Mirror" if I’m being too discreet–National Anthem is a tense political thriller about a prime minister in a tough spot. Someone has kidnapped the people’s princess (no, not Princess Mia) and will only release her if the prime minister does something reprehensible on live television, humiliating himself and the concepts of polite society and decorum in the digital age.

Now, there are a couple moments in the episode when the law enforcement goons miss very obvious technology things, but it’s from 2011, not like 2016, which is what I assumed. All the “Downton” references play different too. Though it still means in the universe where Diana and Charles (presumably, there aren’t details) had a daughter, “Downton Abbey” was a sensation. Heck, it’s even possible Diana’s queen in this universe.


The decent enough observations for 2011 are a time capsule of a more ignorant time (i.e., more ignorant of reality).

As a dramatic thriller, it’s solid prestige television. Rory Kinnear’s good as the prime minister, who finds himself under unimaginable pressure (he should’ve been reading The Pet Goat), which leads to… well, not a character arc–lots of dramatic moments, but not character development. Lindsay Duncan’s his chief assistant who makes some bad choices, leading to contentious moments with Kinnear. She’s fine. It’s a crap part. No one else makes bad choices, just the older woman, but it was 2011 and making a powerful woman incompetent was progressive. She’s powerful, isn’t she?

Despite “Mirror” being co-run by Annabel Jones, Anthem wants nothing to do with the ladies. Anna Wilson-Jones plays Kinnear’s absent from the plot but physically present on set wife, who’s a plot accessory for Kinnear. Chetna Pandya’s the too-eager young reporter who knows how the future of media’s going to work (only she doesn’t—according to the show, anyway—and then she gets punished). Odd flexes.

Tom Goodman-Hill’s kind of pretty good as Kinnear’s boy Friday. So many qualifications. All the acting’s fine, sometimes excellent—there’s just not much for them to do with their performances. Anthem’s on a strict schedule, and director Otto Bathurst keeps the trains on time.

Bathurst’s also fine without being notable. He can direct prestige–big shrug.

But there are some great “cameos.” The show’s trying to be classy by not drawing attention to the stunt casts, but they’re still a lot of fun.

It’s fine. I’ve only said “fine” like five times. It’s a prestige anthology show with a gimmick.

It’s fine.

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