Typically in America, when you talk about a “red box,” you’re usually alluding to the increasingly popular, inexpensive DVD rental company RedBox, which — operating like a vending machine — dispenses discs on the cheap in and around major shopping centers. Moreover, the American version of the RedBox privately doles out offerings you may not want to walk into the public Blockbuster to rent such as Meet the Spartans, Witless Protection, National Lampoon Presents Cattle Call, and Blonde and Blonder (actual films listed on their website). However, in England, a “red box” is something far more prestigious — namely instead of James Bond DVDs, these bad boys contain top secret documents worthy of James Bond himself.
Carried by members of Parliament and colored red to “signify British state ownership,” these official red boxes which are filled with highly sensitive governmental information were initially lined with lead and made of wood, “originally so that they could be thrown off the side of a ship in the event of capture.” However, now these locked and hinged, bomb- and disaster-proof ultra-briefcases “designed to survive any catastrophe that may befall their owner,” are still “a mark of prestige and high office,” not to mention most likely hell to pass through our post-9/11 airline X-ray security checkpoints, where you would probably be told next time to bring a RedBox’s The Hottie and the Nottie instead of the Parliamentary version.
Near the beginning of the brilliant 1986 British televised ten-part miniseries adaptation of Jeffrey Archer’s internationally bestselling novel, First Among Equals, we’re introduced to four very different, yet equally intelligent and ambitious newly elected members of Parliament. While of course, their very own red boxes are acquired easily as they climb the ranks from the backbenches in 1964, this riveting tale follows the same four and spans more than two decades as each one tries in their own unique way to become Prime Minister. Filled with secret alliances, sex scandals, shady financial dealings, infidelities and divorce, terrorism, death, sabotage, and power struggles, this politically charged soap opera may seem daunting at first given its 494 minute running time spread across the three-disc DVD set (hitting stores on September 16) but I found it so gripping that I was hooked within the first episode and managed to squeeze in the entire set within days.
First Among Equals draws significantly on Archer’s own firsthand experience as an MP (Member of Parliament) from the Lincolnshire constituency of Louth, following his election at the age of twenty-nine to the conservative party. And in fact, “several situations in the novel,” chronicle some of the events in his “own early political career in the British House of Commons” as well as the numerous controversies which have followed him throughout his life’s work.