Director Michael Winterbottom said Sir Kenneth Branagh has done a “great job” portraying Boris Johnson in new series This England and hopes the UK prime minister is “flattered” by the casting.
The five-part series follows Mr Johnson as he grapples with Covid-19, Brexit and controversy in his personal and political life.
Winterbottom, 61, said Branagh agreed to star in the series after reading the first draft of the script, which he co-wrote with Kieron Quirke.
He told Deadline: “Ken said yes. But he only had eight weeks, in March and April, so I was like, ‘OK, that sounds just about possible.’
“Who else would play Boris Johnson? I hope Boris is flattered that we picked Kenneth Branagh to play him. Ken’s done a great job but, to be honest, it’s not a character piece.
“Boris/Ken is just the central character in the story. With everyone else, we’re really just looking at their work in relation to this pandemic.
“You don’t see anyone’s back story, you don’t see who they are, their families, you just see what they’re doing in relation to the pandemic.
“So, in a way, it’s the narrative of the pandemic that drives the whole series.”
The series will trace the impact on Britain from the pandemic, and the response of scientists, nurses and doctors.
It is based on the first-hand evidence of people inside Number 10th, the Department of Health, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) and hospitals and care homes across the country.
Winterbottom said: “Boris is just one strand that runs through it because it’s really a mosaic of lots of different stories. The most enjoyable part was the research because we started it straight after the first wave in June 2020.
“We got to talk to lots of scientists, people working at Sage, lots of doctors, nurses, care-home workers and people that had Covid.
“So it’s a collage of all their stories interwoven into a diary almost. It’s really a diary, or chronicle, or calendar of the first wave, so it finishes at the end of May 2020.”
The director said the writing process for the series, originally titled This Sceptred Isle, was “pretty fast”, while the editing has taken more time.
He emphasised he was “just trying to chronicle what happened” and worked to capture the sense of trying to catch up with the virus in the series.
He added: “My assumption is, and I think it’s true, that everyone was trying to do their best. No one wanted to make mistakes.
“The virus was spreading incredibly quickly. If you think about what was happening at the beginning of March 2020, eight days later it was a totally different situation, so the idea of the rhythm of the series is to try and keep that pace.
“As you’re watching the series, you’re reminded about all these things that you remember living through.
“One moment it seemed to be just something that was happening in China, the next moment it was happening in Italy, then it was with us in the UK, but not too bad, and then suddenly it was everywhere.”
Ophelia Lovibond, who starred in Guardians Of The Galaxy, portrays the prime minister’s wife Carrie Symonds, while Broadchurch star Andrew Buchan plays former health secretary Matt Hancock.
The Sky Original drama will premiere on September 21st.