Coup de grace

by Stephen Tall on August 4, 2007

It’s almost 20 years since A Very British Coup was first shown on Channel 4, and a quarter of a century since the book from which it was adapted, by Labour MP Chris Mullin, was published.

In some ways it is unbelievably dated. It portrays the election of a socialist Labour government, and the battles of its charismatic Sheffield ex-steel-worker leader, Harry Perkins – fantastically played by Ray McAnally – to implement a left-wing manifesto of nationalisation, huge public spending increases, and nuclear disarmament against the machinations of the right-wing establishment. Somewhat ironically, it is set in 1989, the year of the collapse of Communism.

If you’ve seen Defence of the Realm (with the excellent Gabriel Byrne) or Edge of Darkness (with the superb Bob Peck) you’ll know the drill – the little, honest man must face down the big, evil forces of conservatism. But it doesn’t make it any less compelling.

Scripted by Alan Plater, AVBC zips along at a whip-crack pace quite unusual among 80s’ dramas (so many of which luxuriate in their own somnambulance, with lengthy tracking shots and huge tracts of expository dialogue). It is also more than a little scary to see an oh-so-young Keith Allen appear as the PM’s press secretary, playing John the Baptist to Alastair Campbell.

You can buy it (or rent it) at Amazon, and doubtless many other retail outlets. If you want a flavour of the treat you have in store, here’s the opening few minutes of the film, courtesy of YouTube. There’s some smokin’ dialogue to relish, and watch out in particular for some fantastically ‘80s electronica graphics about 4½ minutes in.