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Ottonheimer

Image: Grace Gay for Research Professional News

Ivory Tower: an exclusive trailer for a multi-Oscar-nominated science blockbuster

COMING in 2025

[Technically going in 2025]

A film about a CEO who made an impact.

1. INT. The Sainsbury Laboratory, Cambridge, Spring 2020

Ottonheimer: I’m bored sitting in traffic on the A10, A14 or A47, getting into Cambridge every morning. There must be something else I could do with my life.

Dr Exposition, assistant to Ottonheimer: But you are one of the UK’s leading plant biologists. Isn’t that enough?

Ottonheimer: I can feel destiny calling. Is there anything on jobs.ac?

Assistant: You could always apply to be chief executive of UK Research and Innovation now that the 11th government chief scientific adviser, 2013 to 2017, Sir Mark Walport, is stepping down.

Ottonheimer: That’s odd. He has only lasted three years in the job. I’m sure there’s nothing in that. This government is probably lovely to work with. I’ll apply right away. Move that Rosalind Franklin award for outstanding work in any field of science and to promote the work of women in science while I compose a letter.

2. INT. Polaris House, UKRI headquarters, June 2020

Ottonheimer: It’s a crazy idea.

Alok Sharma: We want all the best minds to be in one place, away from distractions, to get the job done.

Ottonheimer: But it’s a desert out there.

Sharma: It’s Swindon.

Ottonheimer: We are facing disaster.

Sharma: Yes, we haven’t experienced anything like it for 100 years.

Ottonheimer: I’ll say.

Sharma: The pandemic is interrupting everything.

Ottonheimer: I was talking about the price of a return ticket on Southern trains from Cambridge to Swindon.

Sharma: I want to impress upon you that this is a national emergency.

Ottonheimer: The light of science can lead the way.

Sharma: We need to find a vaccine soon.

Ottonheimer: To save our way of life?

Sharma: No, to stop Matt Hancock appearing on the televised press conferences.

Ottonheimer: If I am going to do this, Alok, I need to know that you are in it for the long term. Don’t cut and run on me.

Sharma: I’m not going anywhere. I can’t even leave the house to buy a pint of milk.

3. INT. Ottonheimer’s home conservatory, Cambridge, January 2021

Assistant: Have you seen this? Secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, Alok Sharma, has sensationally quit the cabinet to become chair of the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, later this year.

Ottonheimer: If only people could be as reliable as plants. I miss my garden.

Assistant: Sharma is so loyal to this government, giving up a cabinet post to front up the COP. He’s someone who would never vote against his party on environmental issues. He’s just like that nice Chris Skidmore, two-time minister for science, December 2018 to July 2019, and September 2019 to February 2020. Who do you think will replace him?

Ottonheimer: Skidmore? He’ll be MP for Kingswood for decades.

Assistant: No, I mean business secretary Alok Sharma.

Ottonheimer: It doesn’t really matter, as long as it’s not someone who could tank the economy.

4. INT. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, London, January 2021

Kwasi Kwarteng: I don’t care what the scientists say.

Ottonheimer: They are only asking to be allowed back into their labs to check on their rubber plants. Plants can be so soothing, unlike people.

Kwarteng: We remain on a war footing.

Ottonheimer: You mean, you are going to hide in your bunker while others take all the risks?

Kwarteng: Have you met science minister Amanda Solloway?

Ottonheimer: She’s interested in bullying.

Kwarteng: I’ll make a note of that. Maybe she’d be good in the Whips Office.

Ottonheimer: If I am going to do this, Kwasi, I need to know that you are in it for the long term. Don’t cut and run on me.

Kwarteng: I’m not the sort of business secretary who is going to dissolve the Industrial Strategy Council, preside over an energy crisis and a record economic downturn before supporting some mad candidate’s ambitions to be the next prime minister.

5. EXT. Towpath by the River Ouse, Cambridge, September 2022

Assistant: Well, it’s been a busy 20 months, what with the successful UKRI-backed vaccine roll out as a result of world-leading British science in the Oxford Jenner lab and the ousting of the UK prime minister, former journalist, Mayor of London and Brexit campaigner, Boris Johnson, born in 1964, married three times, most recently to former Conservative Party media official now environmental activist Carrie Symonds.

Ottonheimer: Yes, it’s been exhausting. If only people could be less exhausting, like plants.

Assistant: But with Kwasi Kwarteng becoming the new secretary of the Treasury, which for some reason we in Britain call the chancellor of the exchequer, who will be next in charge at the business department, which has oversight of the UKRI budget? At least we can be certain it won’t be MP for Mid Norfolk George Freeman, who was science minister between September 2021 and July 2022.

Ottonheimer: I don’t know about Freeman. He has an aura about him. I’m sure we have not seen the last of him.

Assistant: Truly, he was a man of science.

Ottonheimer: To be honest, the next business secretary could not be as bad as Kwasi Kwarteng.

6. INT. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, London, September 2022

Jacob Rees-Mogg: I’d like your assurance that all your civil servants are no longer working from home, Mrs Leyser.

Ottonheimer: Professor.

Rees-Mogg: There’s no need to call me that, secretary of state will do.

Ottonheimer: [Deep sigh] If I am going to do this, secretary of state, I need to know that you are in it for the long term. Don’t cut and run on me.

7. INT. Ottonheimer’s home conservatory, Cambridge, October 2022

Assistant: Wow, defeated leadership candidate and former finance secretary Rishi Sunak is to replace disgraced prime minister Liz Truss, who only held office for 45 days.

Ottonheimer: If only people took their time, like plants.

Assistant: They say it was her radical tax-cutting budget that did it for her.

Ottonheimer: If only people did not want tax cuts, like plants.

Assistant: Does this mean we’ll have a new business secretary again?

8. INT. Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, London, September 2022

Grant Shapps: I look forward to working with you.

Ottonheimer: You are kidding me. I give up.

9. INT. Hallway in Ottonheimer’s house. The phone rings and Ottonheimer answers. February 2023

Assistant: Have you heard?

Ottonheimer: Don’t tell me, Shapps has gone.

Assistant: The cabinet reshuffle has resulted in the creation of a new department for science, innovation and technology. At last, science with its promised £24 billion annual budget will be pushed up the political agenda, and you can really harness the power of research and innovation for the good of the nation.

Ottonheimer: Who’s the science secretary, then?

Assistant: Former two-day education secretary and ex-universities minister Michelle Donelan, who most recently was secretary of state for media, culture, sport and digital for four months… Hello? Are you still there? Are you crying?

10. INT. Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, London, September 2023

Donelan: I want you to know that this is the most important thing in the history of humanity.

Ottonheimer: Your speech at the Conservative Party conference?

Donelan: We are at war.

Ottonheimer: Against Putin?

Donelan: Against woke!

Ottonheimer: So is Putin.

Donelan: Against woke in science. We are the party of evidence.

Ottonheimer: Are you sure?

Donelan: We will be a science superpower and I want you to give me something so powerful that it will wipe out all the woke.

Ottonheimer: What have I done?

Donelan: Perhaps you could put a bomb under all this equality and diversity stuff.

Ottonheimer: If only I had seen this coming.

Donelan: If you stay on for a second term, together we could go nuclear on all of woke science.

Ottonheimer: Secretary of state, I don’t think I can do this anymore.

Donelan: Got another meeting to go to? No problem, we can catch up later.

Ottonheimer: No, I mean, I cannot keep using my academic reputation and that of the science community to prop up this ludicrous government any longer. You are like death, the destroyer of worlds.

Donelan: Sorry, did you say something? I was too busy tweeting about creeping wokeism.

IN THEATRES 2025

[That’s lecture theatres when Ottonheimer goes back to Cambridge University.]

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