wed 26/06/2019

Ambassadors, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

Ambassadors, BBC Two

Ambassadors, BBC Two

Mitchell and Webb pack their bags for Tazbekistan to star in a diplomatic comedy drama

David Mitchell and Robert Webb: our men in Tazbekistan

The funny business of being British, and the even funnier business of being foreign, are at the heart of the latest vehicle for the talents of David Mitchell and Robert Webb. They’ve conquered the sketch format and the grimy sitcom but in Ambassadors they branch out into trickier terrain of comedy drama. The show's task is to snigger at the absurdities of international diplomacy while also showing signs of some sort of beating heart.

Mitchell plays Keith Davies, our new man in Tazbekistan, a tinpot Asiatic amalgam of a couple of post-Soviet republics where the methods of communism have made way for more traditional forms of governance. The current president (Yigal Naor, pictured below) conducts diplomacy in the form of men-only drinking contests, and holds meetings with ambassadors while butchering chunks of a recently slaughtered quadruped. We have no idea what animal this is, but can be certain it’s not the mighty ibex, which is the Tazbek national symbol. In this first episode Davies makes the dangerous mistake of shooting one while enjoying the president’s hospitality, thus potentially fouling a huge contract to sell British helicopter gunships to a president bent on mowing down his own people.

Webb plays Neil Tilly, a world-weary chargé d’affaires who has gone semi-native, while an FCO mandarin (Matthew Macfadyen) barks orders over Skype. Davies’s only ally is his resourceful wife Jennifer (Keeley Hawes), who herself has to deal with an uppity chef serving "plov" with everything. In this British outpost it's the women (with an implausibly high level of youth and beauty) who keep the show on the road. It fell to young Tazbek attaché (Shivani Ghai, pictured below) to curate a mini-festival featuring medieval folk music, chutney and a one-man Frankenstein (Elliot Cowan, very funny).

Nothing will ever satirise Central Asian hellholes as brilliantly as the spoof guide book Molvania. But the ghastly ways of Johnny Foreigner form less than half of the target in the writers’ sights. Ambassadors comes from the pen of Rupert Walters and James Wood, the latter also responsible for Rev. A similar elegiac tone imbues this portrait of a dilapidated British institution suffering a moral crisis, and Mitchell while very much his own man has some of Tom Hollander’s touching air of defeated pride. (Hollander plays an idiotic royal-on-tour in the next episode).

If there’s a problem, beyond some sketchy plotting, it’s that Ambassadors doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. Webb sometimes seems to be in an entirely different comic time zone, while the scene in the secure room where Mitchell and Webb argue about the so-called right thing to do feels helicoptered in from a bleeding-heart drama by Peter Kosminsky. And yet the laughs come reliably. The tumbling bodies of diplomats poisoned by alcohol is a lovely visual gag. And Mitchell’s hilarious climactic rant to a priapic actor and an ungrateful activist, while delivered with feeling, has the makings of a YouTube collectible.

Should Ambassadorspack its bags and be recalled home? Far from it. Carry on, ambassador

 

THE MANY SIDES OF KEELEY HAWES, DRAMA QUEEN

Ashes to Ashes, BBC One. Hawes’s Eighties copper goes back to the future in Ashley Pharaoh’s follow-up to Life on Mars

Identity, ITV1. Keeley Hawes and Aidan Gillen on the trail of ruthless cyber-criminals

Line of Duty, BBC Two. Gruelling police corruption thriller keeps spines tingling to the end.

The Casual Vacancy, BBC One. Hawes peddles erotica in JK Rowling's Cotswold village

The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses - Richard III, BBC Two. Hawes’s first stab at iambic pentameter opposite Benedict Cumberbatch chilly crook-backed king

The Missing, BBC One. Hawes plays a grieving mother in misery-drenched odyssey

Upstairs Downstairs, BBC One. Hawes is the lady of the house as Rose Buck returns to 165 Eaton Place after 35 years.

 

Mitchell’s climactic rant has the makings of a YouTube collectible

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Comments

Not awful but not great either. I thought, Mitchell's closing rant aside, that he and Webb were the weakest things in it.

It's a bit feeble to lean so heavily on a shocking book without any acknowledgement (Murder in Samarkand) by Craig Murray), and at the same time make light of the arms trade and torture. Sure, Mitchell and Webb are funny guys, but they look like they don't if they are in a suburban comedy or a more biting and black satire (which would have been more challenging and satisfying). It's designed to be affable and bumbling, so that no-one gets too upset about the mercenary politics involved, and which Craig suffered his job for in the end. An opportunity missed for some searing black comedy, in favour of some lite diplomatic Terry and June encounters.

Excellent satirical comedy, really talented script and superb acting. Best thing on TV for ages!

Ambassadors was an absolute gem and is even funnier when you watch it a second time. If you have travelled in the "Stans," you will realise how well researched it was. I hope there will be another series, as it was one of the most enjoyable programmes I have watched on TV in a long time.

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