Behind the scenes

This England: what to expect from Boris Johnson Sky drama

New TV series starring Kenneth Branagh will take viewers inside Whitehall as the pandemic unfolds

Shakespeare virtuoso Kenneth Branagh will play Boris Johnson in a new series that recounts the beginning of the prime minister’s tumultuous premiership as he battled with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.

This England, a new series from screenwriter Michael Winterbottom, will chronicle the events of 2020 “when the prime minister had just won an election, grappled with the spread of Covid-19 and almost died of the virus himself”, said The Times.

Who will star?

Kenneth Branagh, who has recently enjoyed critical acclaim for the feature film Belfast, which he wrote and directed, returns to the other side of the camera with his turn as the UK’s “much-maligned mop-headed bumbler-in-chief” Johnson. The 61-year-old actor was “buried under prosthetics and a blond wig to bring him to life” as the PM, said Empire

Ophelia Lovibond, the English actress who starred in the sitcom W1A and was Carina in the 2014 Marvel film Guardians of the Galaxy, plays Johnson’s partner, Carrie Symonds. Simon Paisley Day takes on the role of Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings, and Andrew Buchan will play Matt Hancock, the health secretary at the time.

What can we expect?

The new drama, which will air on Sky Atlantic later this year, will take us “inside the halls of power” as the Covid-19 pandemic began to unfold and the government was forced to make decisions that would change the lives of millions of people across the country. 

The mini-series will interweave events in government with “stories from around the UK, from the experts and scientists racing against time to understand the virus; the doctors, nurses and care-home workers on the frontline working tirelessly and heroically to contain and overcome it; and ordinary people whose lives were thrown into turmoil”, said Sky.

A dramatic 42-second trailer released this week opens with a triumphant voiceover from Branagh as the prime minister, saying: “A new dawn is breaking, 2020 will be a year of prosperity.”

The tone soon shifts as the pandemic begins to unfold and a voice warns that “500,000 deaths, that is a worst-case scenario”.

“Isn’t it someone’s actual job to give me a heads-up?” asks Branagh’s Johnson as the trailer shows a montage of scenes inside Downing Street and an increasingly embattled looking prime minister standing at a press conference podium. 

The series is based on “first-hand evidence” from people inside Downing Street, the Department of Health and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, as well as those working in hospitals and care homes during the pandemic, said The Guardian. The Sunday Times’ chief political commentator, Tim Shipman, also worked as a consultant on the series. 

Sky has yet to confirm a launch date for the new series, but it is expected to premiere sometime this autumn, said Empire.

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