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Project, The (2002)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Project, The (2002)
BBC / Arte France for BBC1, tx. 10-11/11/2002
105 & 110 min, colour
DirectorPeter Kosminsky
ProducerMatthew Bird
ScriptLeigh Jackson
PhotographyDavid Higgs
Music Composed byDebbie Wiseman

Cast: Matthew MacFadyen (Paul Tibbenham); Naomie Harris (Maggie Dunn); Paloma Baeza (Irène Lloyd); Shaun Evans (Andy Clark); Derek Riddell (Richard Loach); Anton Lesser (Stanely Hall); Kaye Wragg (Lindsey); James Frain (Harvey)

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A group of young Labour Party activists, having tasted bitter defeat in 1992, commit themselves to the party's transformation and return to government. But success comes at a price.

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The Project covers Labour's recalibration as New Labour over a period covering the 1992 election defeat, 1997 landslide victory and 2001 re-election. Told from the perspective of young activists, it was part of a BBC attempt to engage a larger audience with politics, including - to quote one character's admiration of Norman Tebbit's communication skills - "people who have no interest in politics". And so, like the later Party Animals (BBC, 2007), The Project places the personal relationships of fictional characters at the foreground of its heavily-researched world.

This fictional strand is integrated with real events through drama documentary techniques that avoid the impersonation of real politicians in favour of using genuine archive footage among the fictional scenes. For example, a TV soundbite of Gordon Brown attacking the government over Black Wednesday reflects a suggestion made by Paul, while characters hear a Tony Blair radio interview from inside the control room. The interplay of archive and drama sometimes comments on the action: Blair's discussion of community is heard during a champagne party, Blair's rejection of Clare Short's 'project' label conflicts with evidence we have witnessed, and opening gambits in the leadership battle precede footage of John Smith's funeral. By contrast, when The Deal (Channel 4, tx. 28/9/2003) uses footage of the same funeral, it incorporates actors. The Project therefore claims to take us behind New Labour's media presentation.

The personalising use of fiction, together with director Peter Kosminsky's preference for following characters into situations, helps us to identify with events, but also to examine changing values. The protagonists' unity as protestors and their determination to make Labour electable after 1992 gives way to the realities of being in government - as an adviser digging in bins for salacious evidence or a junior MP menaced by party enforcers for voting against welfare cuts.

The intense political discussion that characterised a much earlier Labour Party drama, Bill Brand (ITV, 1976), is tellingly absent here, replaced by an obsession with presentation and the courting of Middle England at the expense of core values. The Project examines changes in political communication, from Tory-voter focus groups to a PR guru's brutal comparison of the body language of Blair and Neil Kinnock.

The relationship between politicians and the media would be further explored in The Government Inspector (Channel 4, 2005), written as well as directed by Kosminsky after writer Leigh Jackson's tragic early death in 2003.

Dave Rolinson

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Video Clips
1. A new dawn (3:09)
2. The modern face of New Labour (2:15)
3. Defending the cuts (3:03)
4. A warning (2:36)
All Good Men (1974)
Bill Brand (1976)
Deal, The (2003)
Government Inspector, The (2005)
State of Play (2003)
Kosminsky, Peter (1956-)