Health Secretary Matt Hancock is a fan of ‘Contagion’, the Steven Soderbergh film about a global pandemic. Everyone else watched it last April but, to be fair, Matt has been fairly busy with an actual pandemic. We’ll give him a pass on that.
But the surprising admission from the health secretary, who outed himself as a ‘Contagion’ superfan in an interview with LBC radio, was that he’s actually learnt one or two things about successful vaccine rollout from the Kate Winslet and Matt Damon-starring disaster movie.
‘I wouldn’t say that film is my primary source of advice on this,’ he said, ‘[but] I knew [that] when the vaccine came good, the demand for it would be huge and that we would need to be ready to vaccinate every adult in the country. I wasn’t going to settle for less.’
The film, he explained, showed that there’d be a huge row over vaccines and that the greatest stress would come after the rollout started. Yes, ‘Contagion’ could be the most prescient film ever (‘Makes bird flu look like nappy rash,’ wrote Time Out’s reviewer).
But what are the other movies that the Health Secretary could learn some important lessons from? Here’s five more pandemick-y movies to add to his Letterboxd list.
1. Outbreak (1995)
Patient zero in the cinematic waiting room of pandemic movies. What will Matt learn from this ebola virus thriller? Firstly, get your PPE sorted early and make sure it’s orange because orange looks cool. Try not to get the military involved because they’ll only want to bomb it. Avoid monkeys. Pray. Thankfully, ebola virus doesn’t spread with this alacrity IRL.
2. The Andromeda Strain (1971)
Michael Crichton knows a thing or two about viruses, conspiracies, and conspiracies about viruses. His sci-fi novel forms the basis of this creepy extraterrestrial plague film from Robert ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’ Wise. The best way to battle the organism turns out to involve drinking parrafin, which probably won’t become government policy.
3. The Happening (2008)
The only time we’re going to recommend this M Night Shyamalan stinker – and even here with a sense of remorse. It’s on the list mainly as a morale-boaster for the Health Secretary: a reminder that however stressful things seem, he will never find himself talking to a plant.
4. 28 Days Later (2002)
If he’s seen ‘Outbreak’, Matt Hancock will know that messing with monkeys ends badly. So it proves in this breakneck zombie-adjacent classic. Keeping monkey-related infections down should be a cinch, especially with zoos closed. Focus instead should fall on the importance of closing borders, especially that big tunnel to France, as highlighted at the end of the sequel.
5. Blindness (2008)
A blindness pandemic breaks out so quickly in this adaptation of José Saramago’s novel that even a quick eye test at Barnard Castle is out of the question. In its unnamed city, Julianne Moore is the only person immune to this communicable disease. Alongside her doctor husband (Mark Ruffalo), she fights to bring some order to the unfolding chaos. It’s bleak stuff, with society breaking down and minimal clapping of carers.
Bonus watch: The Thing (1982)
Not technically a pandemic movie but definitely a great bio-disaster film, and you can definitely make a case for it imparting some important lessons on social distancing. There’s also a great test and trace scene. Covid has yet to spread via dog thankfully, unlike the malevolent life force that systematically rampages through Kurt Russell and co’s Arctic base.
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