Killing Boris Johnson, directed by Musa Alderson-Clarke, is a wounding drama that miraculously and adeptly exorcizes some of the searing anger etched deep within British society in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic. The film, which was chosen for the La Cinef competition at Cannes Film Festival, targets the moral failings and political irresponsibility of Boris Johnson and his government. Though the film deals with universal themes, the corruption of political power and governmental negligence, it is unambiguously about a specific moment and a specific man. Killing Boris Johnson, driven by Shadrach Agozino’s emotional and unhinged central performance as the bereaved Kaz, and solidified by some intelligent formal decisions, is an adrenaline shot and an indignant scream. In its very directness, it despises the bluster and evasiveness of its titular leader.
The film opens with video footage of Kaz’s mum (Cathy Owen), dancing and singing at her birthday party. She is swaying, arms in the air, wearing a big smile on her face. Shortly after, we are given the devastating context: she had severe depression, she coped by being with her loved ones, she was left lonely and isolated in lockdown, she committed suicide in the winter. This information is subsumed by the infamous words of the, then, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking amidst the ‘Partygate’ scandal: “I carry full responsibility for what took place. But nobody told me that this is an event against the rules. . . that it is in breach of what we’re asking everybody else to do”. His apology, his disregard, his denial.
Kaz, first rewatching the video of his mum, and then seeing a newspaper detailing the Prime Minister’s impending visit to St. Mary’s school, makes a promise to himself to kill Boris Johnson. As Kaz festers and froths with rage, guilt and desperation, hemmed in by the oppressive shadows of his apartment, we too revisit fragments of moments that feel so far away, and yet still so unbearably raw.
Killing Boris Johnson has a pointed opening, and the film doesn’t ever lose sight of its target. The film is scathing in its criticism of Johnson’s leadership and its impact on the lives of everyday people. At one point, Kaz puts on a Johnson mask, himself becoming a sort of bizarre voodoo doll of the man he wants to kill. He starts hitting himself, beating his own guilt away and punishing the man he believes is the root cause of it. This is a stark depiction of the physical and psychological guilt that the filmmaker feels Johnson’s abdication of responsibility put solely on the shoulders of ordinary British people: for their dead relatives, their floundering businesses, their canceled social plans. Importantly, Kaz isn’t cast as a hero. He is criticized by other people, namely Maia (Jesse Akele), in the film for his apparently irrational and negligent behavior, and yet he is a deeply sympathetic character. There is something in his explosiveness that resonates with us all in a much subtler form.
The film certainly isn’t novelty or click bait, it has the technical expertise to support and propel the intensity of its themes. The neurotic score—bleeps, feedback, white noise and unrest—heightens the increasingly frantic images, while video footage of the mother and Kaz’s diary room-style confessional vlogs brilliantly break up the more conventional elements of Jack Hamilton’s cinematography. The conflicting emotions of Agozino’s sublime performance—the rage, the anger, the focus, the calculation—are barely contained in light and sound, but the film manages to do justice to every cut on his cheek and every vein on his forehead.
Killing Boris Johnson is a phenomenal and original example of social criticism through the film medium. The film hits on almost every directorial decision, something essential given the highly emotional nature of the subject matter. No punches are pulled and no reverence is necessary. The film skewers the British Covid government through sheer human honesty. The repetitiveness of the news reports, an astute stylistic choice, lays bare the comparative inauthenticity of Johnson’s words and the patronizing effect they had on so many of the British population.
Killing Boris Johnson is, quite simply, unflinching.