The National Anthem (Black Mirror)

"The National Anthem"
Black Mirror episode
Episode no. Series 1
Episode 1
Directed by Otto Bathurst
Written by Charlie Brooker
Original air date 4 December 2011 (2011-12-04)
Running time 44 minutes
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology

"The National Anthem" is the first episode of the first series of the science fiction anthology series Black Mirror, starring Rory Kinnear and Lindsay Duncan. The episode was written by series creator Charlie Brooker, and first aired on Channel 4 on 4 December 2011.


Prime Minister Michael Callow (Rory Kinnear) faces a huge and shocking dilemma when Princess Susannah, Duchess of Beaumont (Lydia Wilson), a much-loved member of the Royal Family, is kidnapped. For her safe return, the Prime Minister must have live sexual intercourse with a pig on national television, with a list of technical specifications designed to make it impossible to fake. Callow adamantly opposes fulfilling the demand and does all possible to catch the kidnapper before the deadline. Callow also demands the news not reach the public, but the ransom video has been posted on YouTube and, despite having only been up for nine minutes, has already been viewed and downloaded by many members of the British public. Although the UK's media initially agrees via a D-Notice not to report the story, it soon reaches foreign news networks, which immediately report. After this, the UK media follow suit. The public's response is initially one of sympathy towards Callow, and the majority do not expect him to go through with the demand. Twitter wags christen the incident hashtag #Snoutrage.[1]

When the British government first receives the video, the Home Secretary, Alex Cairns (Lindsay Duncan) attempts to manufacture fake footage to broadcast (via using highly sophisticated technology to place the PM's head onto a willing surrogate who would perform in his stead). The kidnapper discovers the ploy and sends Princess Susannah's finger to a UK news station as a response. The story is outed and public opinion turns sharply against Callow; a majority now demand he follow through with the kidnapper's ransom although his wife Jane (Anna Wilson-Jones) begs him not to go through with it. This drives Callow to order an immediate rescue operation on the building where they believe Susannah is being held, forgoing the recommended observation period. The building is revealed to be a decoy and a reporter is injured during the operation. Callow loses even more support.

After being informed that his party, the public and the royal family are demanding he fulfills the ransom demand and neither he nor his family will have protection from repercussions if he refuses, Callow performs the act in front of a live global audience who are quickly disgusted by the sight but still continue watching. The Princess is discovered unharmed in the streets, the finger having belonged to the kidnapper. It is revealed that she was released before the deadline, but went unnoticed as everyone was distracted by the broadcast. It emerges that Turner Prize winner Carlton Bloom planned the events, intending to make an artistic point by showing events of significance slipped under the noses of the public and the government as they were "elsewhere, watching screens" and not paying attention to the real world. Bloom commits suicide as the broadcast airs, and it is decided that the early release will not be revealed to anyone including Callow.

A year after the broadcast, Callow's political image has remained intact and gained greater public approval due to his willingness to sacrifice his dignity. Princess Susannah has recovered from the kidnapping and is expecting a child, while the public at large knows of Bloom's organising of the affair and have for the most part moved on from the incident. While Callow's reputation has been raised in the eyes of the public, it is implied that his relationship with Jane has not survived the ordeal—a year after the incident, she is shown making a public appearance with him, but is entirely cold to him in private.[lower-alpha 1]

Critical reception

The A.V. Club gave it an A, writing "The genius of Black Mirror is how subtly it builds, keeping you from ever questioning the insanity of the premise or any minor plothole. Every twist seems organic, every decision rational. Every effort is made to find the kidnapper, of course, but that necessarily has to fail. The press initially struggles with how to report on such an insane story sensitively, but its hand is forced by social media and the ineffable power of the internet."[3] The Telegraph rated it four out of five, commenting "Virgin territory indeed. This was a dementedly brilliant idea. The satire was so audacious, it left me open-mouthed and squealing. Rather like that poor pig."[4] The Independent said "This carefully crafted and compact drama is engrossing, with the tension rising by degrees as the time moves ever closer for the PM to meet the kidnapper's demands. It comes across as being anti-Twitter but also serves as a cautionary tale about the power of the collective 'hive mind' that is social media. It takes no prisoners, particularly those in the public eye."[5] The Guardian wrote "To the untrained eye, the first [episode of Black Mirror], National Anthem, looked suspiciously like political satire – and a very superior one – rather than a sci-fi vision of technology's power to distort the world. All the gadgetry seemed only too familiar and the voyeurism all too credible: there's more dystopia in an episode of Spooks."[6]


For more details on this topic, see Piggate.

In September 2015, allegations were published that David Cameron, who at the time held the position of prime minister, had, as a student, placed a "private part" into the mouth of a dead pig as part of an initiation rite.[7] Charlie Brooker denied any prior knowledge of this claim,[8] although both the story and Black Mirror became topics of popular comment; some Twitter users used the hashtag #Snoutrage, which appeared during this episode, while discussing the incident, although Piggate became the common term for the story.


  1. In Season 3 episode, "Shut Up and Dance", a news headline is briefly shown indicating that during the events of the episode that the Callows are divorcing.[2]


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