Sit down, Mr. Darcy. Move aside, Madame Bovary. Isher Sahota’s period drama of a different persuasion, Goodnight Henry, has arrived at Short of the Week and it’ll keep you laughing even as the billiards room heats up. There’s an authentic nineteenth century castle, remarkably intricate costuming, and mood lighting courtesy of practically lit candles. All of these period-perfect elements conspire to create the setting for a political scheme that’s improbable enough to probably be true. In a bawdily entertaining twelve-odd minutes, Sahota encourages us to chuckle, then challenges us to consider that perhaps our current political systems remain as broken as they were two-hundred years ago.
The gilded glamor of Goodnight Henry’s Victorian castle is first sullied by the Prime Minister’s passing. There’s no dignity in it, as we find the man bent butt-naked over billiards. Clearly, he was servicing more than the populace. Dissuaded not even by death, Mr. Pageant (the Prime Minister’s closest advisor) swoops in to salvage the free trade deal the PM brokered with the French Ambassador, Godefroi, even though doing so would require certain liberties, shall we say? and a forged signature. Their negotiation is further complicated by the shrewd and delightfully ambitious Chambermaid, Rosalind, who knows the truth about how the PM died. The dignified Mr. Pageant, somewhat slimy Godefroi and lowly Rosalind make for a mighty triumvirate. Each wields their own-self interest like a sword. Their greedy charade — under the guise of governance — only escalates as the other demands more and more and more. Sound familiar?
Sahota thinks so, too. When we asked the writer/director what inspired Goodnight Henry, he told us the film is based on the apocryphal true story of the death of Lord Palmerston, who was Prime Minister in 1865. He felt these “themes of depravity and political cover-up spoke to how [he] and a lot of [his] friends were feeling about UK (and world) politics at the time. The idea that politicians were not viewing their job as a means of serving the population, but as a game to be won.” Goodnight Henry begs the question: has anything changed since the days of quill pens and petticoats? Considering the host of morally bankrupt politicians legislating over people’s heads for their personal benefit, the answer is a resounding no.
Goodnight Henry expertly vacillates between its poles. It is entertaining and thought-provoking. Hilarious and tragic. Despite the film’s specific setting and subject, it speaks broadly and universally. So much so, I can feel Sahota’s exasperation from across the pond. With such a strong and realized point-of-view, it’ll be exciting to see what he does next. Fortunately, we won’t have to wait too long. Sahota is working on a slate of projects with Goodnight Henry’s producer, Jamie Macdonald, and has a movie, The Effects of Lying, available on ITVX this month.