Inside No. 9 concludes its sixth series with an uncomfortable ‘state of the nation’ piece, including more political and religious themes than ever before. The episode revolves around a family coming together to watch the Last Night of the Proms on TV. It’s an annual tradition with drinks, bunting and a buffet, but this family are divided in more ways than one and, before the night is over, tensions will come to a head.
Dawn (Sarah Parish) and husband Mick (Steve Pemberton) are the enthusiastic hosts of the gathering. They’re determined to have a great time singing along, waving their flags, and Mick has even donned a Union Jack patterned waistcoat for the occasion. Brother-in-law Brian (Reece Shearsmith) is in a less celebratory mood, glugging red wine and sneering at the sort of people who only know classical music from adverts and TV theme tunes. Dawn and Mick love all of the traditions that come with the Last Night, one of which involves pretending to cry during a particular song, while Brian slams the whole thing as “a middle class Time Warp… The Rocky Horror Show for retired schoolteachers.”
Also forcing herself to get through the evening is Penny (Debra Gillett), Dawn’s sister and Brian’s sexually frustrated wife. He hasn’t gone near her in over three years, she divulges – “He says it’s because he’s depressed about the state of the country, but that doesn’t stop him watching RuPaul’s Drag Race in his study until all hours of the morning.” Rounding out the family are Brian and Penny’s teenage son Oliver (Jack Wolfe), who’s more interested in listening to his own music through his phone, and the sisters’ elderly father Ralph (Julian Glover), who’s sitting in an armchair shouting obscenities thanks to the medication he’s on. Oh, and there’s also an Old English sheepdog named Boris snoozing in the kitchen.
Dawn is particularly eager for things to go well, since it’s Oliver’s first experience of the Last Night and it could be her dad’s last. But it isn’t long before the evening is derailed by family infighting, along with the arrival of a mysterious stranger.
As Brian gets increasingly drunk and Dawn becomes increasingly patriotic, tensions rise and naturally the topic of Brexit is raised. He refers to “the slugs voting for more salt”, while she believes it’s become “a crime to love your country.” Both characters are insufferable in one way or another, so whoever you find the most grotesque will likely depend on your political leanings. On the night it aired, I saw plenty of tweets praising the episode for sticking it to Brexiteers, but there were also a smattering of people praising it for lambasting Remainers. However, Last Night of the Proms ultimately feels less like a ‘both sides are bad’ indictment and more like a comment on the state of modern Britain.
Namely, the episode posits what could happen if the second coming of Jesus occurred today and he stumbled across a very ‘Little England’ sort of household. Spoilers: he is brutally stabbed while Land of Hope and Glory blares out of the TV, and his body is wrapped in a Union Jack flag to the soundtrack of Jerusalem. As symbolism goes, it isn’t the most subtle, but it provides a pretty haunting image nonetheless.
After initially hanging around outside the house, non-English speaking immigrant Yusuf (Bamshad Abedi-Amin) is let inside by Penny, where he proceeds to seemingly turn water into alcohol and create a feast out of nothing.“Do you think he could be… from Ocado?” Mick wonders, in one of the episode’s funniest moments. He is also revealed to have a scar on his hand, and Penny starts to become jittery upon realising that she has denied knowing him three times. However, after covering up his brutal death, the family do their best to explain away the apparent miracles and holy signs, feeling infinitely more comfortable with the idea that they killed an intruder in their home than the son of God. Dawn reassures everyone that “he wasn’t special” while Brian (who, after mocking Dawn’s attitude towards immigration, proves himself to be just as bigoted when it comes down to it) insists that “we had to defend ourselves… Englishman’s home and all that.”
Inside No. 9 episodes are so varied in tone and theme that in every series there’s bound to be one that doesn’t quite land with you as well as the others do. Looking back over series 6, Last Night of the Proms falls into this category for me, and I ultimately found it more interesting to think about afterwards than I found it entertaining to watch in the moment. It’s certainly an ambitious episode, with a lot to take in on first viewing, and there’s a feeling of chaos throughout, partly due to the constant presence of music from the Proms. It also leaves things more open to interpretation than usual, since there is ambiguity around whether Yusuf really was or wasn’t a reincarnation of Jesus.
With the seventh series of Inside No. 9 already in the pipeline and now a BAFTA win under their belt, Shearsmith and Pemberton seem unstoppable. Thankfully, series 6 has proven that the duo are far from running out of ideas and are definitely still capable of surprising us, whether it’s with a commedia dell’arte heist, a rumination on modern-day fandom, or a resurrection of Christ in Brexit Britain. Who knows what they’ll have in store for us next time?
Contributed by Sophie Davies.