Contains Spoilers for The Strange Death of David Kelly
I haven’t really seen it properly, but doesn’t The Queen strike you as a completely bizarre idea for a film? When I first saw it advertised in a cinema somewhere, I literally could not get my head round the fact why anyone in their own right mind would want to go and see it, but what do I know? I’m sure there’s a readymade American market that laps this stuff up, and who’s to say that’s a bad thing? Certainly not me.
Like The Last King of Scotland (another Peter Morgan script), The Queen mines a rich seam of unsympathetic protagonists in a study of tradition (represented by Helen Mirren, or as she is now better known: Her Maj) versus populism (represented by Tony Blair and his gang of gurning modernisers). Well, I’m guessing that’s what it’s about – I’ve seen it on three different occasions now and haven’t actually managed to see the whole thing, so no doubt there are huge gaps in my viewing experience. But bear with me.
A little while back, I wrote about the world of Spooks, and how I perceived that there had been a perceptible tonal shift in the ‘culture’ that made such a series possible. Although I liked Spooks, something about it seemed strangely reactionary – and the same thing struck me about The Queen.
The film portrays Blair the head cheese and his gruff, tabloid-wise sidekick, Alistair Campbell, as brave modernisers, wary and respectful of the old traditions, but recognising that by necessity, they must change. With the benefit of hindsight, Tony Blair’s premiership is not likely to be remembered for the Campbell-scripted speech he gave after Princess Diana’s death, but for an ill-advised, illegal and disastrous war.
Which leads me neatly onto The Strange Death of David Kelly, by Norman Baker, the famous Liberal Democrat windbag). This book is a thorough if at times rambling investigative study into the death of the Government weapons expert, David Kelly, found dead in suspicious circumstances in July 2003. The picture it paints of the Blair administration is not at all flattering, and to a certain extent this is to be expected. What is surprising, however, is the forensic diligence that Baker applies to the central question, which leads him to a startling conclusion: that Kelly was murdered by Iraqi intelligence operatives, and his death made to look like suicide, most probably by members of the UK intelligence community.
Baker grinds through a variety of scenarios – even a few that sound positively demented – and emerges with a thesis that is logical and well argued, even if there are a few unavoidable leaps of guesswork. It’s a persuasively and passionately argued book that leaves few stones unturned – a book that, in adapted form, would give a valid counterpoint to The Queen.
Conspiracy theories may well be a little old hat these days, and have almost certainly been overtaken by the imprecisions of ‘historical fiction’. But when a film as reactionary as The Queen pops up, I often wish there was something that could stand alongside it to give an opposing point of view.
As above, hindsight is a wonderful thing – The Queen is set in the initial days and months of Blair’s premiership, where anything seemed possible. Blair and Campbell are matey iconoclasts, all too aware of what they perceive as being the ‘right thing’, and what they need to do to achieve it. However, in The Strange Death of David Kelly, Blair and Campbell are obsessed with the retention of power; their treatment of David Kelly was disgraceful at best, and their political hobbling of the BBC and the ensuing Hutton enquiry were the breathtakingly arrogant actions of men convinced that they were right (and what is particularly galling about the whole episode is that it was the BBC that was right all along).
The Queen is undoubtedly a work of fiction – where politicians strive for the common good, how could it be anything else? Discounting the obvious guesswork that Baker’s conclusion necessarily demands, The Strange Death of David Kelly seems anything but, a world where the good guys get killed and the bad guys get the million pound book deals. Maybe I’m a bit weird, but I know which one I’d rather pay money to see.