Moore of this Game, please

game change (sky atlantic, sat) titanic (tv3/utv, Sun)

Pat Stacey

THERE was a telling moment during Game Change, the HBO TV movie about the 2008 John McCain-Sarah Palin presidential campaign, when senior strategist Steve Schmidt, played by Woody Harrelson, tells Palin, on a jet to Washington for the first time, "You seem totally unfazed by this."

The governor of Alaska, faultlessly impersonated by Julianne Moore, fixes him with a chilling stare and says: "It's God's plan." Right there and then, Schmidt knows the choice of Palin as McCain's running mate -- a choice he was instrumental in selling to the Republican presidential candidate -- was a big mistake. But it's too late to do anything about it. The wheels are already spinning and in just 60 days they'll have come off the wagon.

When television tackles recent political history, it usually goes for either broad satire (The Thick of It) or speculative invention -- see the five wildly varying dramas the BBC and Channel 4 made between them about Blair and Brown, Blair and Clinton, and Blair and blah blah blah.

Game Change, based on a bestselling book by respected US political journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, neither of whom can be described as a pinko liberal, and directed by Jay Roach, who's best known for Meet the Parents and the Austin Powers comedies, plays it completely straight. The result, though we already know the outcome, is as riveting as any political thriller.

Not that Game Change needed much in the way of dramatic licence. Palin's gaffes are all in the public domain, and all are mercilessly replayed here. She thought Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks; she believed the queen ran the British government; she had no idea why North and South Korea are separate countries.

Her disastrous interview with ABC's Katie Couric, during which she said being able to see Russia from Alaska gave her a special insight into foreign policy, is recreated in an ingenious splicing of real and dramatised footage.

At one point, Schmidt's team of advisors are seen pulling out a map of the world, pointing to Germany and telling Palin the country was "the chief aggressor" in two world wars. "Wow, this is awesome!" she marvels.

Julianne Moore, in a superb performance that never stumbles into caricature, perfectly captures Palin's personality, a patchwork of vanity, hubris, naked ambition and staggering ignorance.

But this is no simple hatchet job. Schmidt was the primary source for the book and film, and the blame for the Palin fiasco is apportioned equally between him, his fellow advisors and McCain (Ed Harris), who comes out of it looking better at the end than at the beginning, when he's portrayed (accurately, one presumes) as a foul-mouthed, cynical opportunist who agrees to Palin on his ticket because he's behind on the women's vote.

Neither McCain nor Palin have seen Game Change, yet condemned it anyway.

Ignorance is bliss, I guess.

So it's farewell and good riddance to Julian Fellowes's Titanic, which sank for the fourth and final time last night, having lost four million viewers in a fortnight (it was trounced in the ratings last Sunday by a programme about 80-year-old crooner Des O'Connor) and in the process drowning the network's reputation as a maker of decent drama, which had been recovering after years of ridicule.

In a perfect world, Fellowes -- hailed as the saviour of Sunday-night period drama after Downton Abbey -- would be written off as a one-trick pony and honourably go down with his ship.

It won't happen, of course. The lifejacket for everyone involved is that Titanic, despite haemorrhaging viewers and attracting dismal reviews, has already been sold to over 90 countries. You can be sure its £12m budget has already been more than recouped.

The question of what all that money was spent on, however, remains a mystery. Crass, hokey and simplistic, at no time did it look anything other than what it was: a bunch of paper-thin characters floundering around in a giant water tank.

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