April 21, 2024

Gabbing Geek

Your online community for all things geeky.

Black Mirror “The National Anthem”

Series One, Episode One.

Black Mirror, an English anthology show about the dark side of modern technology, has gained a good deal of critical and fan acclaim.

Let’s spend a few weeks looking at it.

The first episode of Black Mirror, called “The National Anthem,” sounds like it could have been the subject of a comedy piece.  The premise is that a popular member of the Royal Family has been kidnapped, and the only way to get her released safely is for the sitting prime minster, one Michael Callow, to have sex with a pig on live television on every channel.  Considering a weird, pig-related scandal also hit former Prime Minister David Cameron while that man was in office, and you have to wonder what series creator Charlie Brooker, who also wrote the episode, was thinking.

Here’s the thing though:  this premise is never played for laughs aside from maybe a satirical dig here and there at the 24 hour news cycle.  Princess Susannah may be in mortal danger, and despite the best efforts of Callow’s underlings to get a willing stand-in, the pressures of the entire episode are played straight.

Callow is played by actor Rory Kinnear, a fairly talented actor who gets around.  He’s been in the last few James Bond films, played a man taking his cousin’s royal position in the Shakespeare adaptation The Hollow Crown, and for Gabbing Geek’s overall purposes, played Frankenstein’s monster on Penny Dreadful.  The episode opens with Callow woken from sleep and asking if the whole thing is a joke, and as the episode wears on and the chance for a rescue for the princess (and a rescue for Callow to keep him away from any and all pigs), Kinnear makes the man a sympathetic focal point.

Much of the pressure on Callow comes in part from the news cycle and its own ticking clock, instant voter polls, and an ever-present audience glued to their TV sets for the hours that the episode takes place over.  The ending (which I’d rather not give away) concludes in a way to suggest that everything was just of passing interest for the majority of people, with the noteworthy exceptions of Callow and his silently-suffering wife, a woman who feared Callow’s reputation was ruined simply by having Susannah’s kidnapper make the request.  As she puts it, once that video went up on YouTube, and then the TV networks started airing it (American channels before the British ones), then the image of Callow having sex with the pig was in the heads of people even if the actual event never happened.

Powerful, disturbing stuff.  I think I’m gonna like this show.