As a former court room, the No. 9 Downing Street briefing hub has seen its fair share of drama – and none more so than this past year. Some £2.9 million was lavished on turning the site into a state-of-the-art stage for press conferences, amid plans to televise government briefings with the parliamentary lobby. But all that changed in April when, following the departure of Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain, the idea was scrapped, with Allegra Stratton moved from lobby briefings to the COP26 beat.
But what to do with the newly-restored press room, newly decked out in royal blue and Union Jacks aplenty? For the last six months the former Privy Council Office courtroom has hosted various intermittent pressers including Sajid Javid’s Covid briefings and Boris Johnson’s kids’ conference on climate change – ‘a rare chance to have some mature questions,’ as one No. 10 aide quipped to Mr S. Yet for the most part the room has sat empty and unloved, with only the odd Henry Hoover or two to fill its cavernous, wood pannelled confines.
One new use was discovered for the room last month however, after it was revealed that Boris Johnson had used the room to host a secret screening of the new James Bond flick No Time to Die. The film – which features beautiful women, a killer virus and an Old Etonian entangled in Whitehall politics – was shown to aides, with all costs met by the companies involved. Lobby hacks were told by No. 10 that ‘similar screenings have taken place previously,’ prompting excited speculation as to which other films have been shown there.
Famously, the American President has his ‘White House Family Theatre’ with a list of records revealing various incumbents’ tastes: Bill Clinton enjoyed the Naked Gun 33 ⅓ while Finding Dory was the first film to be shown there during the Donald Trump presidency. Eager to discover what films have been shown in Downing Street, Mr S dutifully filed a Freedom of Information request, keen to uncover the pictures which our priapic premier has been watching.
Some of Johnson’s favourite films include Apocalypse Now, The Godfather and Love Actually – all of which, in their different ways, might strike a chord with his long-suffering Downing Street team. The Muppet Movie could be a choice perhaps, in light of Johnson’s Kermit the Frog UN speech, or Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V to get them in the mood for war with France?
But now the curt response has come back from Downing Street to confirm that, other than the ‘one film’ already in the ‘public domain’, ‘no other films have been screened’ since 1 April 2021 – despite No. 10 briefing journalists that ‘similar screenings have taken place’ prior to the 007 flick.
Given the apparent discrepancy in these answers, and the ongoing probe into the Cabinet Office’s use of FOI requests, let’s hope the next film being shown in Westminster isn’t Lie Another Day.