When Charlie Brooker (Screenwipe, Dead Set) sits down to write something, you know you’re in for a near the mark, brutally honest statement with a twisted satirical spin. The National Anthem, the first stand-alone story of Brooker’s new three-part Black Mirror series for Channel 4, certainly delivers on that front.
Serving as a warning against ever increasing technology (the ‘black mirror’ of today’s world), The National Anthem tells the story of fictional Prime Minister Michael Kallow (Rory Kinnear) on the day a much adored royal princess is kidnapped.
A horrific ransom video is broadcast over YouTube, whereby only one request is made – the Prime Minister is to appear live on every television channel and perform a sexual act with an animal. Within an hour, hundreds of thousands have already witnessed the video, thus escalating the situation into national crisis proportions.
With news networks being told they aren’t to broadcast anything regarding the video, the people turn to social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook for their information. As new developments happen in the cabinet office, naive tea boys ‘tweet’ what they hear, only fuelling the already eager and bloodthirsty public.
Hospital staff gather around televisions in nervous anticipation, whilst constantly reloading their ‘feeds’ and ‘walls’ and expressing their opinions in 140 characters or less. Later, people will come together in pubs to see whether the demand will be met, as though the vulgar event is akin to the Royal Wedding.
Speaking at the press conference after the episode’s screening, Brooker told us: “Well, it stemmed from Gordon Brown having to go and apologise to Gillian Duffy. He had to do something that was so… you know, ‘Go and say sorry’, like he had to apologise for speaking his mind in private. It kind of grew from there. That and the Raoul Moat saga; that was a really weird day for news.”
When later asked about the inspiration behind the main theme of the series, the pessimistic outlook on increasingly more connected and invasive technology, Brooker replied, “No, I’m not really [pessimistic], I think if I were I’d write more joyful things” adding “Why? Are you? Do we all need a hug?”
Overall The National Anthem kept us second-guessing, delivering several well thought out twists with some fantastic performances, especially from Kinnear and Lindsay Duncan as the Home Secretary. However, we can’t help but feel that the strength of the message would’ve been a lot more powerful had the threat been more severe and less comical, though that isn’t really Brooker’s style, and that’s why we love him.
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Watch the trailer…