Ben White (Bill Paterson) decides to quit his job as a foreign correspondent in order to stand as an independent candidate against the disgraced Conservative politician Paul Madison (Robert Duncan). Catching the mood of a public disgusted with political sleaze, Ben finds himself Westminster-bound and keen to curb the excesses of the gutter press. But Ben has a skeleton in his closet – one which the editor of the Daily Comet wastes no time in exposing …..
Guy Jenkin’s 1997 satire has lost none of its topicality. Delighting in taking broad side-swipes at both the media and politicians, most of the piece still seems as depressingly relevant today as it was back then. Given Jenkin’s background (he was the co-creator of Drop The Dead Donkey) it’s maybe not surprising that the opening shot of Ben reporting from a warzone has more than a feel of Damien Day’s reportage about it. But there’s nothing faked about Ben’s piece to camera – although the mood of his heartfelt speech is somewhat spoiled by the ostentatious appearance of that week’s lottery numbers.
The broad satire continues when Ben, handed an award for this report, receives a trophy shaped like a golden McDonalds hamburger. Various familiar faces appearing as themselves – John Humphrys, Keith Chegwin, Edwina Currie – is another Dead Donkey touch, whilst his Dead Donkey co-writer – Andy Hamilton – seems to be enjoying himself tremendously as the Comet’s low-life editor. At one point he expresses genuine puzzlement as to how they could possibly produce a newspaper if they were restricted to only telling the truth ….
At the time this first aired New Labour had just swept to power. But their honeymoon period – in Jenkin’s eyes anyway – seems to have been extremely brief. Behind the glossy PR-speak, their political operatives are just as ruthless as the opposition. Helen Nash (Samantha Bond) is a Labour politician earmarked for big things, but this has little to do with her abilities (although she’s presented to us in a very sympathetic light) and more because she’s a very photogenic sort of person.
It’s Ben’s decade-old affair with Helen (that occurred when he was still a married man) which is the trigger for him to be the recipient of a deluge of unwelcome press attention (other allegations follow). Paterson and Bond handle the dramatic scenes with aplomb, although both are equally adept at mining the script for its considerable reserves of humour.
Casting-wise, there’s impressive strength in depth here. Robert Duncan (another Dead Donkey old boy) is hugely entertaining as Paul Madison, the weak-willed Tory politician who loves to impersonate Adolf Hitler in private. He’s matched all the way by Ceila Imrie as Madison’s wife – the long-suffering Victoria. The clear power behind the throne (they always appear together in press conferences, where she barely lets him get a word in edgeways) Imrie is perfect as a steely puppet-master.
Matilda Ziegler as a dead-eyed Labour fixer and Dervla Kirwin as the Daily Comet’s top reporter, the Ferret (who apparently casts no shadow), also both catch the eye.
Mr White Goes To Westminster is loosely based on the exploits of Martin Bell, the foreign correspondent who resigned from the BBC in order to oppose one of the safest Conservative seats in the country – that of Neil Hamilton. Bell won by a landslide (helped by the fact that Labour and the Liberal Democrats withdrew their candidates) and was sometimes referred to as the man in the white suit. Mr White, ah I see.
Running for 75 minutes, Mr White Goes To Westminster is a sharp satire, featuring a fine central performance from Bill Paterson. There may be plenty of gags but it also takes the time to touch upon concerns which still strike chords today. This is a DVD that is well worth checking out.
Mr White Goes To Westminster is released by Simply Media on the 8th of October 2018, RRP £11.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).