Douglas is Cancelled on ITV review: Hugh Bonneville is on peak form in this witty and savage series


Douglas Bellowes (Hugh Bonneville) is a presenter on a successful evening news programme called Live At Six. Despite a familiar kind of entitled stuffiness, he and his sparky young co-host Madeline Crow have a chemistry that makes for TV gold.

All is fine in the world of Douglas – at least as far as he’s concerned – until it isn’t. A tweet emerges that suggests he was overheard making a sexist joke at a recent wedding, and a damn good cancelling is seemingly about to unfold. Especially when Madeline chooses to retweet it to her 2 million followers.

Stephen Moffat is the man behind Douglas Is Cancelled, and has actually taken a bit of a risk with the show. Such is the fevered state of social media ‘discourse’ that doing a show dealing with cancel culture is itself running the risk of being cancelled. Especially a comedy. Especially a satirical comedy.

How can you skewer the trigger-happy puritans policing behaviour like Orwell’s Junior Spies, without feeling their joyless wrath? Or how can you prick the denial bubbles of willfully ignorant Anti-Wokies without feeling their blustering ‘right to hate’ rage?

Well, Moffat finds the solution in taking witty swipes at everyone and everything in our peculiarly deluded age, which makes for a highly refreshing hoot.

Hugh Bonneville reaches peak Hugh Bonneville here, hilarious as a hapless anchor suddenly out of his depth in a raging social sea, flapping about in incredulous alarm while having his ego spiked by those around him who are supposed to help.

Karen Gillan as Madeline Crow (ITV)
Karen Gillan as Madeline Crow (ITV)

The chief pleasure of the show are these characters that build up a Fellini-esque London milieu. There’s his wife, Sheila, played by Alex Kingston, a fearsome Rebecca Wade-style newspaper editor who warns Douglas, “be careful what you say because we’re hacking your phone,” and is convinced Madeline is plotting against him, but that doesn’t matter what she or any other paper writes anyway because it’s already too late for the social media mores: “Nuance is work. Douglas is cancelled.”

Also a big shout out to Sheila’s anxiety-riddled PA, Helen, played by Stephanie Hyam, who has been told by her therapist to “internalise” when she feels afraid of Sheila, and wears earbuds to play soothing music to drown out Sheila’s shouting – not ideal when you have a PA who won’t speak or listen.

Then there’s Douglas’ producer, Toby (Ben Miles), trying to hold it altogether as the show collapses around him, while coping with a driver who he mistakes for his comedy writer, and an actual comedy writer (Nick Mohammed) who can’t seem to find the one-liners to get Douglas out of this – “Comedy is hard,” he insists.

Douglas’ agent, meanwhile – a wonderful Simon Russell Beale – is failing to grasp the severity of the situation, or indeed the language of the situation (“Not misogynist. I’m a sexist!” an exasperated Douglas finds himself shouting at lunch) and is taking the opportunity to move in on Madeline as a client. He does find some words of reassurance to Douglas though: “For all the people who’s lives are destroyed by this kind of thing, there are others who do perfectly well. I can’t think who, but I’m sure there are some.”

Amid all the scene stealing, perhaps its Hugh’s daughter, Claudia, who steals the most, with a masterful performance by Madeleine Power as the ultimate modern triggered teen. Her weaponised youthfulness is brilliantly rendered in exchanges like this:

Douglas: “You’re my daughter first.”

Claudia: “And an activist.”

“I’m your father before anything else, please remember that.”

“Trust me dad, no-one’s forgetting about the patriarchy.”

“Jesus Christ….Claudia, believe me, I’m all over this. Between you and me, father to daughter, your daft old dad really doesn’t want to get himself cancelled.”

“And dad I really, really don’t want to have to cancel you.”


Madeleine Power as Claudia (ITV)
Madeleine Power as Claudia (ITV)

Bonneville’s shifting look of generational alarm here is worth its own Bafta. Later he’ll ask his wife if she thinks Claudia has changed. Sheila replies, “She’s frightening, that’s what she is.”

And then there is Karen Gillan’s Madeline, on whom the whole short series truly hinges. For while there is plenty of knockabout fun, it also has an edge-of-your-seat propulsion from twists that centre around Madeline. Just who’s side is she on? Sheila doesn’t trust her. Hugh seems utterly wrapped around her finger. Toby is watchful. But what is Madeline’s actual position? And her endgame?

As the series goes on, revelations come forth from the past and Madeline’s true motivations are revealed. Gillan is simply outstanding in the role, bringing her unnerving Nebula (the antihero from the MCU films) side into play behind the ingenue act, as the elusive, whip-smart and long game-playing puzzle of a character.

Great acting, great writing, great series. What we have here is a comedy that walks the high wire of our times to leave you with an exhilarating buzz.

Douglas is Cancelled is streaming now on ITV