BBC 2’s new documentary on Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings promised to “shed light on a man whose ambitions may now direct Britain’s journey for years to come”.
Presented by Emily Maitlis, who won awards for her interview with Prince Andrew last year, Taking Control: The Dominic Cummings Story aired last night at 9pm.
“The film charts his arrival in Downing Street as a senior adviser with significant and perhaps unprecedented power. Now, at the apex of the largest Conservative majority since 1987, Cummings aims to play a key role in reshaping the nation, our economy and government,” said the makers.
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However, it had a tepid response from most critics.
Anita Singh at The Telegraph said it “failed to crack politics’ moodiest maverick”, and awarded the programme just two out of five stars. “There was little attempt at psychology, and no information about his early life,” she complains.
Singh adds: “The view from all sides seems to be that Cummings is awful. It’s just that some people think he’s brilliant, and so put up with him being awful.”
In a separate article for the same newspaper, Lebby Eyres said the documentary “seems to confirm what I’ve thought all along: it’s not really our Prime Minister Boris Johnson who’s in charge, but Dom”.
The programme features an interview with Colin Perry, formerly of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), who claimed Cummings tried to push him down steps after a tense radio interview in 1999.
“We had to come down a rather narrow flight of steps from the studio,” said Perry. “I led the way down and suddenly felt that he’d grabbed my shoulders from behind and was trying to push me down the steps.”
Cummings declined to respond to the BBC’s request for comment, although claimed at the time that the two men had “stumbled into each other”.
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But, writing for GQ, Tony Blair’s former right-hand man Alastair Campbell said the format of the documentary was “fairly standard, trotting through key phases in Cummings’ up-and-down career, alongside interviews with talking heads, nearly all male, white and middle-aged, saying what you might expect them to”.
Rupert Hawksley at The i newspaper adds “there was almost nothing here about Boris Johnson’s chief adviser that you wouldn’t have known already if you picked up a newspaper from time to time”.
He concludes: “Sadly, one couldn’t help conclude that the BBC was also too afraid to ask the tricky questions, for fear of irritating Cummings, a man people very much seem to want on side – especially political journalists, who need to be privy to his legendary off-the-record briefings. All a bit pathetic, really.”
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