Island of Dreams, review: Richard Branson makes an easy target in scurrilous sitcom

Caricature: Harry Enfield as Richard Branson in the BBC comedy pilot ‘Island of Dreams’ - BBC
Caricature: Harry Enfield as Richard Branson in the BBC comedy pilot ‘Island of Dreams’ - BBC

From the creators of royal farce The Windsors came sitcom pilot Island of Dreams (BBC Two), this one setting its satirical sights on Richard Branson.

Harry Enfield starred as the Virgin magnate, lording it over his luxurious Caribbean retreat of Necker Island. The plot, such as it was, imagined that Branson had a sideline as a guru-slash-therapist for messed-up celebrities prepared to pay £30,000 per night.

These included MasterChef judge Gregg Wallace (Al Murray), whose affliction was that he was devoid of talent (you’ll find no argument here); author JK Rowling (Samantha Spiro), suffering writer’s block and a potty mouth; actor Daniel Radcliffe (Richard Goulding), for whom roles had dried up post-Harry Potter; singer Adele (Morgana Robinson), haunted by “success guilt”; and Bond star Daniel Craig (Tom Basden), typecast as 007 when he aspired to star in “middlebrow adaptations of Ian McEwan novels”.

All horsey teeth and leonine locks, Enfield pitched his portrayal as Tim Nice-But-Dim meets Peter Stringfellow. He attacked the role with relish, riding around on a Segway while wearing eye-wateringly unforgiving swimming trunks. 

Also popping up were drippy physicist Professor Brian Cox (Dustin Demri-Burns) and rival entrepreneur Elon Musk (Jamie Demetriou), who flew in on a jetpack to ridicule Branson for being a relic who still communicated by fax.

Island of Dreams: clockwise - Harry Enfield as Richard Branson, Leigh Gill as Baboo, Dustin Demri-Burns as Brian Cox and Al Murray as Gregg Wallace - Credit: Ray Burmiston/bbc
Island of Dreams: clockwise - Harry Enfield as Richard Branson, Leigh Gill as Baboo, Dustin Demri-Burns as Brian Cox and Al Murray as Gregg Wallace Credit: Ray Burmiston/bbc

This wasn’t what you’d call subtle wit, preferring to aim its broad panto humour at easy targets. There were some decent lines – Rowling claiming JK “stood for Jamiroquai” and pops at unreliable Virgin trains – but writers Bert Tyler-Moore and George Jeffries too frequently fell back on swearing or sex to elicit cheap laughs. Branson’s dwarf servant Baboo (Leigh Gill) was intended as a 40-years-late Fantasy Island spoof (down to declaring “Ze plane, ze plane!”) but ended up a tiresome throwback. A sub-plot about Branson’s secret interstellar travel scheme felt tacked-on. 

Island of Dreams was not as much rollicking, riotous fun as The Windsors and, stripped of its family soap structure, seemed strangely scattergun. The flimsy format was merely an excuse for celebrity impressions, much like Morgana Robinson’s own recent vehicle The Agency. The main interest was how near-the-knuckle the scurrilous gags could creep. Island of Dreams must have kept the BBC’s legal department busy over Christmas. They can expect more correspondence now it has aired. 

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting