Film & TV

How Soon is Too Soon? The Depiction of Pandemic Life in TV and Film

Charlotte Lear

It’s begun. January 2021 has marked the start of Covid-19’s hardly anticipated debut into entertainment’s fictional realm. True, it has already made an appearance in regular UK Soaps such as Eastenders with the executive producer Jon Sen addressing the fact that it’s important for the show to mirror people’s real lives. Yet, this time Covid-19 has made its way into purpose-built TV and film dramatisations of what life is like in such ‘unprecedented times’… makes your skin crawl just reading it.

But what’s the rush? It’s almost as if they think we won’t be dealing with the aftermath of the pandemic for months and years to come, as if Autumn 2022 is actually the perfect time to drop a star-spangled series featuring the multi-award winning Kenneth Branagh as Boris Johnson, tracking a dramatisation of his political handling of the pandemic and the impact it has had on Britain. 

This has already happened in our fairly recent history with regards to the big B word: Brexit. When Channel 4 commissioned the production of the 2019 film Brexit: The Uncivil War it was chaos. Lucy Magan summarises this in her review for The Guardian when she writes: ‘in an era besieged by misinformation, it was the duty of the makers of this Cumberbatch referendum drama not to add to the chaos. They did not succeed’. The film was deemed, ‘superficial’ and ‘irresponsible.’

As much as fiction is a safe space for creators to explore their subject matter, in the case of events that have perpetuated mass trauma it is hard to fall back on an “imagined future” when, understandably, people find offence in its reductive and romanticised presentation. It seems, though, that Channel 4 hasn’t quite learned their lesson when it comes to severely jumping the gun, as they have commissioned a production to start filming this year which follows the heart-wrenching story of a care-home worker and her patient as they navigate the pandemic together. Who is playing this key worker you may ask? Emmy award-winning actress Jodie Comer.

This is a key issue in itself, take the uproar regarding Maddie Ziegler’s ableist and quite frankly vulgar portrayal of autism in Sia’s new film- not to mention disgust at James Corden’s portrayal of a gay Broadway actor which is nominated for a Golden Globe. There is a fine line between acting as your profession and taking up space that does not belong to you. 

In a pandemic that has existentially expanded the disparity between the celebrity and the everyday it seems insensitive that these well-paid actors are getting paid even more to act and dramatise the lives of those for whom the pandemic will forever be an incredibly traumatising experience. 

Fine. Maybe a few years down the line, having big names in these sorts of dramas would be a great cash cow for the directors and producers, as well as adoring fans. I probably wouldn’t have a problem. But, as James Hibberd writes “you cannot capture a crisis in the middle of a crisis”; which raises the question: who has actually asked for this? 

Categories: Film & TV

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