Coalition was a bit like a 21st century version of Wolf Hall, but with Nick Clegg instead of Thomas Cromwell.

No, hear me out. Because they’re really not that far apart, Cleggy and Cromwell: they both played kingmaker, both became their respective ruler’s right-hand man, and both appear doomed to be judged harshly by history. Though the Deputy Prime Minister can take some comfort from the fact he’ll probably get to stay attached at the neck.

If James Graham’s quietly gripping drama is to be believed, the Member for Sheffield Hallam – played here by Bertie Carvel in the manner of a young Griff Rhys Jones – really did help keep UK Plc open for business by ending the Mexican stand-off that followed 2010’s inconclusive election result. But with great power comes great responsibility and Clegg, like Cromwell, was seized with guilt at having to bring down the big beast that was Gordon Brown (the excellent Ian Grieve, complete with ketchup stain seeping through his shirt like a bullet wound).

In other ways, Coalition was less like a Tudor court drama than a romcom, as Cleggy, Brown and Cameron (now there’s a Last of the Summer Wine revival waiting to happen) flirted with each other by text while the Lib Dem leader weighed up who to jump into bed with. When Clegg and Cameron (Mark Dexter) eventually met face to face, one aide likened it to ‘putting two pandas together in a zoo to see if they get it on’. Which is probably not an image you’ll want to dwell on for too long.

The best bits, perhaps inevitably, were those featuring Peter Mandelson – an oil-slick of charming menace from Mark Gatiss. Gatiss is making something of a career out of playing these unctuous schemers – not least, of course, in Wolf Hall – but he does them so very well.

The odd clang of awkward info-dump aside, Coalition was a deft attempt to set recent political events in a human context, from which all three leaders, unusually in this corrosively cynical age, managed to emerge with some sort of dignity.

A political drama that isn’t contemptuous of politics? I’ll vote for that.

TV extra:


Inside No 9

What happens when you put half the League of Gentlemen in a railway sleeping car with Jack Whitehall, Mark Benton and Hayley Cropper from Corrie? TV gold, as it turns out.

The opening instalment of Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton’s returning anthology series was a sort of Murder on the Paris to Bourg St Maurice Express: a pitch black comedy that, like much of the pair’s best work, mixed intelligent, acerbic wit with cheap but irresistible toilet humour. Or, in this case, large-German-man-in-crowded-couchette-fails-to-reach-toilet humour. Revoltingly funny.



It’s difficult to know what British audiences are supposed to get from Gracepoint – Fox’s slavish US Broadchurch remake – other than I-Spy points for clocking changes to the original.

There’s no Olivia Colman, but David Tennant is present and dishevelled, still sporting that dreadful beard and, as detective Emmett Carver, now saddled with a slightly iffy American accent. We’re told Carver is lying low in Gracepoint after a bungled investigation elsewhere. They must mean Broadchurch. No, hang on a minute, they mean Sandbrook. Except now it’s called Rosemount. Oh, it’s all too confusing.

Published in Waitrose Weekend, March 26, 2015

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