This England writer explains surreal Boris Johnson dream sequences
Michael Winterbottom and Ophelia Lovibond spoke about the drama's most peculiar scenes.
Brand new Sky series This England dramatises the events of early 2020, recreating moments from when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and then Prime Minster Boris Johnson had his own personal experience with the virus.
As well as the behind-the-curtain look at the Johnson government and the tough-to-watch scenes of people struggling with the virus, there are certain moments which may particularly stand out to viewers which pop up infrequently throughout the series - some seriously surreal Boris Johnson dream sequences.
The first comes at the start of episode 2, with the scene, which is shown in black and white, seeing Kenneth Branagh's Boris giving his thoughts on a range of topics. He responds to each with a series of controversial phrases which the real Johnson has either written or been reported to have said. He then wakes up in bed, with the action reverting to colour.
A similar scene plays out at the start of episode 4. Boris is asleep, dreaming of himself responding to allegations about his own conduct, particularly regarding his personal relationships.
Then, as he starts to develop COVID-19 symptoms later that same episode, he starts to have more frequent, slightly different dreams.
These see the drama translated once again to black and white, but this time to a sort of Shakespearean landscape, reminiscent of a scene from Macbeth. Boris's children stand around in historical robes, staring down the camera, as does his then-fiancée Carrie, with their soon-to-be-born baby.
The scenes are in stark contrast to the rest of the programme which plays out as a largely factual drama, taking a straight-laced approach to real world events.
When speaking with RadioTimes.com and other press, the show's writer Michael Winterbottom explained why he decided to include the scenes, and gave some insight as to their greater meaning.
Winterbottom recognised that "there's two different sorts of dreams really", but refused to be drawn on the earlier, more modern sequences. He said that "the easiest ones to talk about are the ones that Boris has when he has COVID", meaning the Shakespearean-style scenes.
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Talking about these sequences, Winterbottom explained: "I had COVID and I had very intense dreams - this was after we made the series - but like in any fever you have very intense dreams. We talked to a lot of people who had almost like hallucinatory, vivid dreams."
He continued: "It seemed to me that one reason why people asked us to make a series which had Boris as a central character in relation to COVID is that Boris was not only the leader of our country's response to it, but [he] was having his own experience of COVID and ended up in intensive care.
"But also at a time when, just in this few months period, he was moving in with his girlfriend, he was getting her pregnant, he was divorcing his wife, there was a communication gap with his children, he was having a baby.
"So all this was going on in his life, and it seemed to me that at any time in a way your family, your partners, they're the most important relationships, even if you're Prime Minister. And obviously if you're ill and you feel like you're possibly dying, they would become even more important. So those dreams were just a way of trying to underline that."
Winterbottom added: "For one thing to underline that Boris has a sort of classical imagination - when you read his books he obviously looks at modern life through that lens and looks at himself in relation to Emperor Augustus or whoever - but also just to try and include in our story the fact that even if you're a prime minister, you still have your own personal family.
"Emotional relationships are still at the centre, and when you have a personal crisis that's what's going to be most of your mind."
In addition to this, Ophelia Lovibond, who plays Carrie in the series, detailed what it was like filming the historical scenes when speaking exclusively with RadioTimes.com.
She said that her predominant memory of the shoot was that it was "really cold", and that "we were all kind of looking at each other and thinking, 'This is a really strange way to earn money.'"
Lovibond said that she was "glad they're part of the show because it's kind of a creative, almost magical realism way of interpreting his thinking and what might have been going through his mind."
She continued: "They were quite strange to shoot but they were still fun and it's hard to imagine because they were shot at kind of dawn on a beach in Norfolk, [and] I thought, 'I wonder what this is going to look like cut together.' But I think they work."
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