The National Anthem (Black Mirror)

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"The National Anthem"
Black Mirror episode
Black Mirror - The National Anthem.jpg
A stunned Prime Minister (Rory Kinnear, left), having watched a video of the kidnapped Princess Susannah (Lydia Wilson).
Episode no. Series 1
Episode 1
Directed by Otto Bathurst
Written by Charlie Brooker
Featured music Original Score by
Martin Phipps
Cinematography by Jake Polonsky
Original air date 4 December 2011 (2011-12-04)
Running time 44 minutes
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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List of Black Mirror episodes

"The National Anthem" is the first episode of the British science fiction anthology series Black Mirror. The episode was written by series creator and showrunner Charlie Brooker and directed by Otto Bathurst; it first aired on Channel 4, on 4 December 2011.

In the episode, the British Prime Minister Michael Callow (Rory Kinnear) awakens to be told by the Home Secretary Alex Cairns (Lindsay Duncan) that Princess Susannah (Lydia Wilson), a much-loved member of the Royal Family, has been kidnapped, and will be killed unless the Prime Minister has sexual intercourse with a pig on national television.

The episode received very positive reviews. It was later compared to Piggate, a real-life scandal which occurred in 2015.

Plot[edit]

British Prime Minister Michael Callow is woken during the night to learn that Princess Susannah, a much-loved member of the Royal Family, has been kidnapped. For her safe return, the kidnappers demand that the Prime Minister must have live sexual intercourse with a pig on national television, following a list of technical specifications designed to make it impossible to fake. Callow adamantly opposes fulfilling the demand. His team, led by Home Secretary Alex Cairns, reluctantly inform him that the ransom video was posted on YouTube and has been viewed and downloaded by thousands of people. Although the UK media initially agrees to comply with a D-Notice to not report the story, clones of the video are available on YouTube and public discussion is taking place on Facebook and Twitter. Later, UKN breaks the D-Notice by discussing the kidnapping, though censoring the kidnapper's demands; other news media also begin to report on the story. The public's response is initially one of sympathy, and the majority do not expect Callow to go through with the demand.

Special Agent Callett (Alex Macqueen) attempts to arrange a method for footage to be faked using an actor with Callow's head digitally imposed in place of his. The kidnapper discovers this and sends a severed finger, ostensibly Princess Susannah's, to a UK news station as a response. The story is outed, and public opinion turns sharply against Callow; a majority now expect him to follow the kidnapper's demands, though his wife Jane (Anna Wilson-Jones) begs him not to go through with it. Callow orders an immediate rescue operation on the building where they believe Susannah is being held. Meanwhile, UKN journalist Malaika has been sending sexually explicit photographs to an associate in return for details about the government's actions. She learns of the rescue operation and films it on her phone. However, the building is a decoy, and Malaika is shot as she tries to flee the scene.

Cairns convinces Callow that he will be despised by the public, and threatens that his family may not be safe, if he refuses to comply with the kidnapper's demands. He reluctantly agrees, being informed that possession of a recording of the event will become illegal at midnight, and an unpleasant tone will be played to discourage viewers from watching. Gravely, Callow has intercourse with the pig while an audience of 1.3 billion watches; some people are disgusted and others amused.

Princess Susannah is discovered unharmed on The Millennium Bridge – she was released 30 minutes before Callow's sex act began, though Cairns covers this up. Turner Prize winner Carlton Bloom commits suicide by hanging; he was the kidnapper and it is revealed that the finger he sent to the news station was his own. As speculation circulates that Bloom planned the debacle in order to convey the message of people’s obsession with the media, Cairns tells a distraught Callow, as he vomits into a toilet, that Susannah is safe.

A year later, Susannah is pregnant and Callow's approval rating has improved as he and his wife are shown smilingly entering 10 Downing Street. Behind closed doors, his wife's demeanor shifts and she coldly walks away from him as Callow plaintively pleads with her to talk to him.[a]

Production[edit]

Charlie Brooker says in an interview that the idea for the episode was first pitched to Jay Hunt following the rejection of a completely different script on the subject of war, putting the production of the series in jeopardy. Hunt "paused, and then she laughed" upon hearing the idea. The initial conception of the episode involved a celebrity carrying out the sex act;[2] years earlier, Brooker had had the idea for a short story where Terry Wogan would have to go on live television and have "full sexual intercourse with a sow" in order to secure the release of a kidnapped princess.[3] Brooker then watched an episode of 24 and thought of parodying it, though it "seemed more interesting to play it ultrastraight and to have the viewer's initial reaction be one of laughter and disbelief."[2] Brooker notes that other animals similar to a pig were considered for the sex act that Callow is forced to perform: he says, "We thought all through the farmyard", and even considered "a giant wheel of cheese", but chose a pig as "You needed something that straddles the line between comic and horrifying." The episode was partially inspired by a controversy where Gordon Brown called a member of the public "a bigot" after speaking with her, and also a Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers comic where "as he remembers it, a police chief is required to have sex with a hog".[4]

Brooker has said in an interview that he and Konnie Huq, his wife, were on the set watching during the filming of the scene where Callow has sex with the pig. He claims that amusingly, Bathurst didn't call "cut", and instead let Kinnear carry on getting closer to the pig, putting his hand on the pig's back, until Kinnear said "I'm not going any further..."[5]

The episode aired in Australia in June 2013 as part of Studio's "Festival of WTF!" A billboard featuring Callow about to have intercourse with the pig was shown in Kings Cross, New South Wales in May 2013, but soon removed, with a spokesperson for the channel apologising and plans to show the image in print and online suspended.[6]

Critical reception[edit]

Airing on Channel 4 on 4 December 2011 at 9 p.m., the episode garnered 1.9 million viewers, according to overnight figures from BARB.[7]

The A.V. Club gave it an A, writing: "The genius of Black Mirror is how subtly it builds, keeping you from ever questioning the insanity of the premise or any minor plothole. Every twist seems organic, every decision rational. Every effort is made to find the kidnapper, of course, but that necessarily has to fail. The press initially struggles with how to report on such an insane story sensitively, but its hand is forced by social media and the ineffable power of the internet."[8] The Telegraph rated it four out of five, commenting: "Virgin territory indeed. This was a dementedly brilliant idea. The satire was so audacious, it left me open-mouthed and squealing. Rather like that poor pig."[9] The Independent said: "This carefully crafted and compact drama is engrossing, with the tension rising by degrees as the time moves ever closer for the PM to meet the kidnapper's demands. It comes across as being anti-Twitter but also serves as a cautionary tale about the power of the collective 'hive mind' that is social media. It takes no prisoners, particularly those in the public eye."[10] The Guardian wrote: "To the untrained eye, the first [episode of Black Mirror], National Anthem, looked suspiciously like political satire – and a very superior one – rather than a sci-fi vision of technology's power to distort the world. All the gadgetry seemed only too familiar and the voyeurism all too credible: there's more dystopia in an episode of Spooks."[11]

At the 2013 Broadcast Awards, "The National Anthem" was nominated for Best Single Drama.[12]

Comparisons to Piggate[edit]

In September 2015, allegations were published that David Cameron, who at the time was British Prime Minister had, as a student, placed a "private part" into the mouth of a dead pig as part of an initiation rite.[13] Charlie Brooker denied any prior knowledge of this claim,[14] although both the story and Black Mirror became topics of popular comment; #snoutrage, a hashtag that appears in "The National Anthem", was one of the several popular hashtags used on Twitter to refer to the story.[15] Brooker has called the event a "coincidence, albeit a quite bizarre one", and was quite perturbed when he first heard the allegations: "I did genuinely for a moment wonder if reality was a simulation, whether it exists only to trick me", he said in an interview.[4]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ In Season 3 episode, "Shut Up and Dance", a news headline is briefly shown indicating that during the events of the episode that the Callows are divorcing.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Stolworthy, Jason (28 October 2016). "Black Mirror season 3: Episodes exists in the same universe and here's the proof". The Independent. 
  2. ^ a b Mechanic, Michael (14 October 2016). "The Man Behind Netflix's "Black Mirror" Is Maybe a Little Too Good at Predicting the Future". Mother Jones. Retrieved 5 December 2017. 
  3. ^ Brooker, Charlie (2005). Screen Burn. Faber and Faber. pp. 191–192. ISBN 0-571-22755-4.  Originally published in The Guardian, 5 October 2002.
  4. ^ a b Benedictus, Leo (21 September 2015). "Charlie Brooker on Cameron and #piggate: 'I'd have been screaming it into traffic if I'd known'". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 September 2017. 
  5. ^ Jonze, Tim (19 October 2016). "Charlie Brooker: 'Someone threatened to smuggle a rifle through customs and kill me'". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 September 2017. 
  6. ^ "Controversial billboard will be removed, Foxtel says". news.com.au. 1 May 2013. Retrieved 25 December 2017. 
  7. ^ Plunkett, John (12 February 2013). "Black Mirror nets nearly 1.6m viewers". The Guardian. Retrieved 10 December 2017. 
  8. ^ "Review: Black Mirror: "The National Anthem"". AV Club. Retrieved 17 October 2014. 
  9. ^ "Black Mirror: The National Anthem, Channel 4, review". The Daily Telegraph. 4 December 2011. Retrieved 17 October 2014. 
  10. ^ "Review of Black Mirror". The National Anthem. Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 17 October 2014. 
  11. ^ John Crace. "TV review: Black Mirror; Mark Zuckerberg: Inside Facebook; and The Party's Over: How the West Went Bust". The Guardian. Retrieved 17 October 2014. 
  12. ^ "Broadcast Awards Shortlist 2013 revealed". Media Business Insight. 21 November 2012. Retrieved 3 February 2018. 
  13. ^ Nicole Morley (21 September 2015). "Black Mirror creator Charlie Brooker denies he knew about #Hameron". Metro. 
  14. ^ Charlie Brooker [@charltonbrooker] (21 September 2015). "Just to clear it up: nope, I'd never heard anything about Cameron and a pig when coming up with that story. So this weirds me out" (Tweet) – via Twitter. 
  15. ^ Stewart, Dan (21 September 2015). "Why David Cameron's 'Pig-Gate' Scandal Isn't Going Away". The Times. Retrieved 7 September 2017. 

External links[edit]