It’s me, Suchandrika Chakrabarti!
I’m now on Clubhouse - find me @suchandrika
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Let’s dive right in, shall we? I had one thought, so let’s get to it while it’s good!
Yep. I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. Now you have to as well!
Warning: possible spoilers for The Thick of It and The Crown (although the latter is just recent British history that you ought to be aware of)
Hm, neither Malcolm Tucker (left) or The Queen as played by Olivia Colman (right) look happy about this, but let me explain.
They’re both fictionalised shows about real institutions - perhaps even real people - that show how being part of said powerful institution (government, royalty) both confers privilege upon the people involved, and completely cages them. All, except for one person per show: Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It and The Queen in The Crown.
While Tucker is cast as the snarling, raging victim in one, and the Queen as the untouchable empathetic heroine of the other (note how we get her backstory over the seasons, how we see her receive the news of her beloved father’s death, how she puts difficult-to-like first lady PM Margie Thatcher at ease in their one-to-ones - but we never find out anything about what makes Tucker Tucker), they both exist outside of the rules that bind everyone else.
Only they understand the precise rules of their institution’s engagement with the media - which could make or break them, and is the source of all their crises - and only they can save their underlings who’ve got on the wrong side of the press.
External image is everything on both shows, and it has to be managed through the press, which in turn, controls public opinion. The press itself curtails the freedom of the little cogs of each institution (the MPs and the royals who aren’t the Queen) by sending aggressive paparazzi to tail them, or people dressed up as lamb chops to create humiliating photo ops, or finding out secrets about privately-schooled kids and phone calls to mistresses and threatening to tell everyone else.
When a character gets into trouble with the all-important press, they get rescued by Tucker or the Queen. Tucker’s brand of rescue comes with hellfire and inspired, poetic cursing, and the Queen’s comes with a gracious silence, but it’s the same thing. They’re the safety valve of their shows. Sure, the little people get into trouble, but the untouchable stars of the show will get them out of it, as far as it’s possible.
Characters in close orbit of Tucker and the Queen can fall out of favour fairly easily - Jamie, Malcolm’s even scarier mini-me, does over the course of Spinners and Losers, and just look at the shift from the Prince Charles of Season 3 to the one of Season 4 - and they can go beyond rescue, but those examples are few and far between.
There are two main differences, though: Tucker is, eventually, replaceable; and the royals are a family, so there are outsiders who can be ejected, and insiders who can’t be, but will face punishment. While it is a sad storyline to watch the Queen and Prince Charles grow further apart over Seasons 3 and 4 - she learns about the ups and downs of his marriage from the papers, like any member of the public - he is firmly inside the machine. Even though he refuses to take official advice to lose the mistress, he doesn’t get ejected from the institution - his wife does. Charles’s fate? A lifetime of bad press, that continues to this day.
Being in The Thick of It is the far less scary proposition, despite Tucker’s tirades; at least the government is not at once both your employer and your mother. One tie can be cut, but the other can’t, really; and to be both employer and mother is the worst, most isolating job. Being powerful, these two shows tell us, is so much worse than you imagine.
“Just as many Noughties kids are bringing their nostalgia into the film and TV industries as adults, there are others who were deeply wounded by the decade and want to explore those scars.”
Related: another cool and normal day in British journalism…
“Delight in all of your absurdities, your foolishness, your wild daydreams, your good heart. This moment is delicious.”
Excited to be hosting bits of the Pop Culture Meets Social Change Retreat 2021 next week!
I’ve got a 3-minute gig with Comedy Virgins that will be streamed on this page, you can catch me on Mon 15th March, 7-8pm
I’m on the latest episode of The Week Unwrapped, in which Felicity Capon (Editor of The Week Junior), Theo Tait (Editor of The Week UK) and I tell Olly Mann about the less-reported stories of the week that could still impact our lives.
This time round, we’re looking at how successive governments have handled the fallout from French nuclear testing in Polynesia in the 60s and 70s; how the exodus of foreign workers from the UK will affect us and them; plus how major cities like London and New York are being transformed by low rents and the TikTok generation…
Thank you so much for reading!
If you enjoy my work & fancy buying me a virtual coffee, I’d be delighted (and will hopefully experience a virtual caffeine rush):