Thirty-five years after "Thatcher," the UK blockbuster that gripped the world, created an entire new genre of politics and made many executives fabulously rich, the Conservative Party is preparing to release a sequel. Get ready for "Truss".
"It's 'Thatcher' with added diversity," say party managers ahead of the expected release date on 5 September (The multi-racial cast will be a sharp contrast to Thatcher's all-white cabinet.) "The special effects are mind-blowing compared with what we were capable of in the 1980s," they insist. "Inflation, strikes, a winter of discontent, an evil Russian dictator … We've got it all, and a lot of new monsters they hadn't even thought of back then."
Can "Truss" possibly live up to the hype — and justify all the money and time that has been sunk into producing it?
The Conservative Party has had plenty of disappointments with sequels over the decades. "Major" (1990-1997) culminated in such a frenzy of sex and gore that even seasoned fans were revolted. "Cameron" (2010-2016) played well in Notting Hill but alienated tradition-minded viewers. "May" (2016-2019) was doomed from the start, not only because of its robotic leading character but because the cast spent all its time squabbling.
"Boris" (2019-2022) got off to a good start – a blond hero doing battle with the defeated armies of Remainia – but soon degenerated into farce. The lead character frequently failed to turn up to shoots and, when he did, clearly had not bothered to learn his lines (in one episode he was reduced to raving about "Peppa Pig" and making motor car noises).
"Those were just spinoffs, and the people who were responsible for them are long gone," Tories will have you believe. "'Truss' is a genuine sequel, with all the panache and drama of the original."
Many point out that the monsters that made "Thatcher" such a smash hit are stalking the land once again. Citigroup Inc. predicts that inflation in the UK will top 18%. Strikes are spreading. Trade union activists are all over the news. The streets of Edinburgh are piled high with rubbish. Beaches are rank with sewage. A winter of blackouts beckons.
And they dismiss the objection that Conservatives have been in power for the past 12 years with a knowing aside – "fans of fantasy are not exactly big on consistency" – before going on to list other horrors: the kingdom in the north is at a point of rebellion, the barristers are revolting, the House of Lords is stuffed full of subversives …
What about the lead actor? You can think up the best storyline and spend any amount of money on special effects but, as we discovered with "Major" and "May," you cannot make the show a success unless the star is up to it. Not everybody in Conservative-world is on board with the choice of Liz Truss.
Dominic Cummings, who played the king's hand in "Boris," once described her as "close to properly crackers". Matthew Parris, a veteran of "Thatcher," has likened Truss to "the doner kebab that, after a night on the tiles, momentarily seems like a good idea – until you open the bread pouch."
Truss's supporters dismiss this as the whining of embittered has-beens – Parris did not even make it into Thatcher's Cabinet, and Cummings was sacked mid-season. Plus, Truss not only looks the part – she styles her blond hair just like the original Thatcher and frequently wears identical clothes – she is also visibly growing into her role.
Conservative Party executives were cautious enough to screen test another actor, Rishi Sunak, for the lead, but they are now confident that Truss has trounced him – and not just because he made the mistake of wearing £490 ($576) Prada shoes to an audition. He also tried picking holes in the script, suggesting, for example, that inflation cannot be defeated by sending in a really big knight with a giant sword.
There are doubts, too, about some of the other potential characters (producers have not released the full cast list yet but have nevertheless dropped heavy hints). Some of the suggestions seem absurd: the aged Vulcan, John Redwood, for the Treasury, for instance (viewers of "Thatcher" will remember his catastrophic role as Welsh Secretary), or, more absurd still, putting Jacob Rees-Mogg in charge of levelling up. Others seem merely implausible.
Can Suella Braverman sustain the bigger role of Home Secretary after she made such a hash of Justice? Can Nadine Dorries really survive into the new series given her questionable performance in the last?
The worry is that "Truss" will quickly degenerate into a farce — not so much a sequel to "Thatcher" as a parody. The diminishing tribe of moderate Conservatives worries that the party is so intent on appealing to hardcore fans that it will alienate mainstream viewers. Yet executives of "Truss" say people will not be attracted to the show without some theatrics.
"What our people want is madder music and stronger wine. Dragons that can breathe enough fire to heat Newcastle for a winter!" they proclaim. "And we intend to give it to them."
Adrian Wooldridge is the global business columnist for Bloomberg Opinion. He was previously a writer at the Economist. His latest book is "The Aristocracy of Talent: How Meritocracy Made the Modern World."
Disclaimer: This article first appeared on Bloomberg and is published by a special syndication arrangement.