Weekend’s best TV: Mobile 101 charts Nokia’s rise and fall, while America’s wingnuts rage against Drag Queen Storytime

Sampo Sarkola in Mobile 101. Photo: Rabbit Films/Channel 4

Pat Stacey


IT seems the traditional biopic is being supplanted by an entirely new genre which celebrates not individuals, but individual brands.

The year is not even half done and we’ve already had films about a video game (Tetris) and a Nike shoe (Air).The trend probably started back in 2016 with The Founder,which told the story of the creation of the McDonald’s fast food empire.

Apparently, there’s more of this sort of thing coming down the pipeline, including a Jerry Seinfeld film about, of all things, Kellogg’s Pop Tarts.

While you hold your breath for that cinematic landmark, television gets in on the act with Mobile 101 (Channel 4, Friday; also streaming), a Finnish series about how Nokia rose to rule the mobile phone market in the 80s only to have its crown eventually knocked off by Apple.

Called Made in Finlandin its home country, it has an inbuilt nostalgia appeal. Who over a certain age doesn’t look back fondly on their first phone (mine was a Motorola with an antenna and two chunky rechargeable batteries – state of the art at the time) and chuckle?

Mobile 101 plays it commendably straight. There’s no wink-wink dialogue, for instance, when the nerdy Nokia engineers marvel at the size and lightness of rival Motorola’s revolutionary model the MicroTAC.

Telling the story from the point of view of executives, the genius engineer who set out to create the world’s smallest mobile and a pair of lawyers tasked with closing a big deal when Nokia’s ebullient CEO kills himself, causing the markets to wobble, it’s sharp, pacey and extremely watchable.

“They act like it’s a sex show here. It’s little kids being read to by someone in a costume,” said a man called Tony Siracusa in the latest edition of underappreciated current affairs series Unreported World(Channel 4, Friday).

Tony was one of a group of volunteers acting as security at a Drag Queen Storytime event, where a performer in drag reads an age-appropriate book to an audience of children and their parents.

Reporter Minnie Stephenson was in Tennessee, the latest frontline of America’s so-called culture wars, a devalued catch-all term for right-wing attacks on personal rights and freedoms, not least those of LGBTQ people.

Where Tony sees only innocent entertainment, Tennessee Republican congressman Tim Burchett – whose Wikipedia page reveals his biggest political contribution so far was sponsoring a bill making it legal to eat roadkill – sees “a grown man dressed as a lady, rubbing his crotch”.

Whatever Burchett’s diseased little mind imagines goes on during Drag Queen Storytime was sharply at odds with what we saw at an event in Charlotte, North Carolina: children and parents enjoying a lovely, funny interactive show.

Such events take place in libraries and coffee shops all over America. But they’ll no longer take place in Tennessee, which recently banned drag queens from performing in public places or within 1,000 feet of schools, parks and places of worship.

At least a dozen other Republican-controlled states are weighing up a similar drag-ban to go along with the 400 other restrictive laws passed across the country since the start of the year.

Inevitably, the incendiary talk of Burchett and his ilk has resulted in death threats against drag queens. In Charlotte, performer Karen Affection, real name Logan Lanier, had to be escorted into the venue as evangelical Christian wingnuts paraded up and down, chanting prayers and hurling foul-mouthed abuse in equal measure.

Another reading was almost derailed by a bomb scare that turned out to be a hoax.

Tammi Montgomery, owner of Dru’s Place, a popular gay club that’s been operating in Memphis, Tennessee, for 30 years, told Stephenson she’d had to hire armed security guards to man the door.

This pernicious clampdown on anyone who doesn’t fit the straight, white, Christian model is supposedly all about “protecting the children”.

The ones America’s children need protecting from most are the Burchetts of this world.

This was a depressing postcard from a country in the grip of a mass derangement from which you fear it will never escape.