Politics for dummies

The Amazing Mrs Pritchard, a new BBC drama about a housewife-turned-politician, is childishly simplistic.

Neil Davenport

Topics Culture

A constant complaint about British TV is that there is a dearth of decent, credible dramas. The arrival of BBC1’s The Amazing Mrs Pritchard will do nothing to arrest the dismal decline.

Worse, it contains a childishly facile message about how vile politics is and how untrustworthy politicians are. In TV drama terms we’ve been here before – back in 1996 with Our Friends in the North. But where that sprawling epic intelligently chartered the shifts in postwar British society, Mrs Pritchard has all the range and reality of a children’s TV programme.

Jane Horrocks plays the titular heroine, a supermarket manager from Leeds who, after witnessing the daft machinations of local politicians, decides to become the anti-politician politician. After all, as she isn’t ‘one of them’; she won’t lie or let you down. By the simple virtue of being anti-politics, Ros Pritchard is presented as being completely trustworthy. Her dumb and dumber slogan – ‘Politics: It Isn’t Rocket Science’ – is meant to be a ‘refreshing alternative’ to knowing what you’re actually talking about.

Standing as the anti-politician politician has proven surprising fruitful in recent elections, as epitomised by Martin Bell, various local ‘save our hospital’ candidates and, indeed, most Liberal Democrat MPs. But for an isolated individual to inspire a party to overall electoral victory overnight, as Pritchard’s Purple Alliance achieves in this programme, is simply wishful thinking from the scriptwriters. It’s in this segment that the ‘drama’ takes off into unbelievable Scooby Doo territory.

Early on, for instance, Pritchard thinks she’s going to get sacked from her supermarket job. Instead the owner of the chainstore gives her £10million pounds to launch her campaign. On BBC’s Newsnight, Pritchard is due to debate a hard-boiled Conservative Party shadow minister. After a chat in the loo regarding sanitary towels, ‘good deeds for the day’ and homespun advice for a fellow ‘woman in politics’, the Tory minister suddenly decides to defect, as you do, to the Purple Alliance. By the time Pritchard’s organisation had been elected into power, I was expecting a beetroot-faced Gordon Brown to say, like the bad guys to Scooby, Shaggy and the gang: ‘If it hadn’t been for you meddling women, I’d have been prime minister.’

The women-only composition of the Purple Alliance was, of course, deliberate, communicating a message about the ‘bad’ masculine values of traditional politics. Combative politics, we are told, is only an insensitive man’s game and surely what’s needed is a touchy-feely ‘feminine’ touch. The bit where dozens of housewives are lecturing us about the evils of politics seemed to take its cue from the Brit-luvvie school of Mel Smith and French and Saunders. At that point, having my teeth slowly removed by a pair of pliers seemed a more enticing way to spend an evening.

The one moment where ‘drama’ entered the programme was also the worst. In a predictable ‘honey, think what you’re doing to the kids’ turn, Pritchard’s husband warns her of the perils of politics. There will be tough decisions to make, derogatory insults to defend and, with a line borrowed from the Not In My Name lobby, bloody wars that might have to be fought. In short, politics is a nasty, brutish business only fit for nasty, brutish people. ‘Politics is meant to be for them, not the likes of us,’ says Mr Pritchard at one point, denoting a line between the despicable and the decent. No doubt Ros Pritchard’s home-baked decency will begin to crack the more involved in politics she becomes.

Jane Horrocks is often a dependable actress and, indeed, she succeeds in making Ros Pritchard anodyne and annoying (particularly the yokel, I’m-real-me accent). Horrocks’ job, though, has been made all the easier by a premise that’s almost breathtaking in its simplistic contempt for politics. On every level, The Amazing Mrs Pritchard is a piece of televisual fluff. And guess what – it doesn’t rocket science to work that out, either.

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