Entertainment TV Too soon? Kenneth Branagh to play Boris Johnson in UK coronavirus drama
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Too soon? Kenneth Branagh to play Boris Johnson in UK coronavirus drama

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Those looking to put the coronavirus pandemic behind them might find it a little difficult as a new drama series prepares to take us back through the trenches.

Kenneth Branagh (Tenet, Murder on the Orient Express) is set to star as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in a new TV series about the UK’s first wave, but not everyone is keen to tune in.

Critics on Twitter have panned the concept, and claim a series depicting Johnson’s mismanagement of the pandemic is “too soon”.

The Sky Atlantic series, called This Sceptred Isle, will be helmed by British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom (The Trip, A Mighty Heart). 

The five-part drama will chronicle the Prime Minister’s appointment to the top job, the UK’s first outbreak of COVID-19, how the NHS tried to contain it and Mr Johnson’s life-threatening battle with the virus.

Using first-hand accounts from survivors, the series is also set to explore the wider impacts that the pandemic has had on the UK and the response of nurses, scientists and doctors.

Testimony from Number 10 Downing Street, the department of health, hospitals, care homes and the Scientific Advisory Group of Emergencies (SAGE) will also be critical elements included in the series.

Winterbottom and his company Revolution Films will produce the series, as will True Detective producer Richard Brown.

And while many are condemning the series for its insensitivity, others have claimed producers have got the casting all wrong.

Twitter users have suggested Branagh is too handsome and chiselled to play the 56-year-old, and believe the choice is part of a larger ploy to mythologise Johnson.

Everyone from Benny Hill to The Albino from The Princess Bride has been put forward as a more suitable option.

But the obvious choice for many was Little Britain’s Matt Lucas, whose impersonation of Johnson’s confusing and conflicting coronavirus advice went viral in 2020.

Frontline stories

Along with directing and producing the series, Winterbottom has also worn the writer’s hat, co-writing the series with Kieron Quirke.

Winterbottom said he was committed to including true stories from those on the frontlines, Deadline reports.

“The first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic will be remembered forever. A time when the country came together to battle an invisible enemy,” Winterbottom said.

“A time when people were more aware than ever of the importance of community. Our series weaves together countless true stories – from Boris Johnson in Number 10 to frontline workers around the country – chronicling the efforts of scientists, doctors, care home workers and policy makers to protect us from the virus.”

Brown added that Winterbottom and his co-author have “meticulously researched” the project and have “an undeniable, distinct vision” for how they will bring it to the small screen.

Sky UK managing director of content Zia Bennett said the “central performance from Kenneth Branagh will make This Sceptred Isle a drama we are proud to be part of telling”.

“COVID-19 has presented once-in-a-generation challenges to the world, and in the UK the resilience and fortitude of the public over the past year has been nothing short of extraordinary,’’ Ms Bennett said.

“Portraying NHS staff and key workers on the frontlines of the extraordinary fight, to those in government facing unprecedented challenges; Michael Winterbottom has a clear and compelling vision in telling this remarkable story.”

This Sceptred Isle is set to start filming early this year, and will air in 2022.

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