Chivalry, review: Steve Coogan stars as sleazeball in smart satire on Hollywood and sexual politics

Steve Coogan is very good at playing a middle-aged man nervously navigating the new “woke” landscape while desperate to sleep with women half his age. In Chivalry (Channel 4), he is Cameron O’Neill, a Hollywood producer facing up to life in the MeToo era. Bobby Sohrabi (Sarah Solemani) is the right-on film director drafted in to reshoot the sex scenes in his latest film and make them less objectionable to a female audience.

What follows is an odd-couple comedy. Bobby makes no effort to disguise her disdain for Cameron, whose presence she seems to experience as a physical pain. But she’s pragmatic – as studio executive Jean (Wanda Sykes) explains, if Bobby pulls this off she’ll get the money to make her Iranian feminist Biblical biopic.

It’s a witty show, and isn’t so simplistic as to make Cameron the villain and Bobby always the voice of reason. Solemani’s withering delivery is great, as is Coogan when his character makes squirming attempts not to say anything career-endingly sexist. Cameron is careful in Bobby’s company to refer to his ex-girlfriend – who has just dumped him via WhatsApp – as his “life partner”. “How old was your life partner?” asks Bobby, with a raised eyebrow. “Twenty-five. Nearly twenty-five,” Cameron replies defensively. At one point he complains to Jean: “You can’t even describe people with adjectives any more. These people are like the East German Stasi!”

Most of the time, we’re on Bobby’s side. But sometimes you wish she would give it a rest. When she meets her film’s American leading lady, played with relish by Sienna Miller, she explains that the re-shot sex scene will be a nuanced “celebration of the vagina”. Miller’s character snorts: “The Americans don’t celebrate the vagina, sweetheart. We celebrate Hanukkah and Thanksgiving.” Miller is one of several fun cameos in the series, along with John C Reilly and Paul Rudd.

The language, I must warn you, can be explicit, along with the sexual references. Cameron looks alarmed when Bobby utters the c-word, but she calmly informs him: “That is an acceptable slang term for a woman to use to describe female genitalia. It can’t be used to describe a person.”

Bobby also has a serious speech about the need for on-set intimacy coordinators: “Because the men who had the power to stop women being abused chose not to. The environment created was just so hostile and toxic and predatory and disgusting, intimacy coordinators were created to spell out what should be obvious.” But then the show leavens this by having the intimacy coordinator (Aisling Bea) be an under-qualified idiot who clearly fancies Cameron. When she playfully smacks his bottom, Cameron says: “You’re not supposed to do that any more, even though I don’t mind!”

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