Channel 4’s much anticipated Brexit drama starring Benedict Cumberbatch is released next week on January 7. We bring you six of the best political dramas to watch alongside it:
Coalition (Channel 4, 2015)
Broadcast just before the 2015 General Election, this feature-length television film, also written by James Graham, was rightly praised for its portrayal of the immediate fall-out of the 2010 General Election – the first in nearly 40 years to fail to deliver a majority government. Though it might seem tame compared to more recent events, Graham’s film neatly captures the scheming and bargaining between the three parties as they scramble to form a new government. Bertie Carvel, who later starred as a controlling love-rat husband in Doctor Foster, makes an excellent Nick Clegg – particularly in his dealings with former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown. It’s still on 4oD and well worth a watch (keep an eye out for Mark Gatiss’s opening cameo as a slightly vampiric Lord Mandelson).
The Special Relationship (BBC Two, 2010)
Michael Sheen’s portrayal of Tony Blair in The Queen saw him nominated for awards on both sides of the Atlantic. But few people know that the film was actually part of a trilogy, with screenwriter Peter Morgan also penning The Deal, about the famous Granita dinner, and The Special Relationship, about Blair’s relationship with President Clinton, both of which starred Sheen in the lead role. Like The Queen, the film mixes political novelty with a more serious emotional punch – the Kosovo scenes are particularly stirring. Just don’t expect this largely forgotten gem to appear on Netflix anytime soon – my advice is head to eBay and grab yourself a second-hand DVD for 99p.
When Boris Met Dave (More 4, 2009)
Perhaps the most curious entry on the list, this docudrama promised a tell-all exploration of the university exploits of Boris Johnson and David Cameron. Co-produced by Toby Young, an Oxford contemporary of both men, and featuring talking-head interviews with various Spectator regulars (namely James Delingpole and Lloyd Evans), this was perhaps the first real attempt to get under the skin of the bubbling feud between the emerging Conservative heavyweights – something which would, with Brexit, go on to acquire much greater significance in years to come. Could the format be resurrected – When Jeremy Met Diane anyone? For anyone curious to see it, I’m told it’s been uploaded online. Google is your friend.
The Long Walk to Finchley (BBC Four, 2008)
With a cast including Andrea Riseborough, Rory Kinnear (who also stars in Brexit as Cameron’s communications director) and Samuel West, this high-budget drama followed the rise of Margaret Roberts and her ten-year struggle to defy the then stuffy male establishment of the Conservative Party and enter parliament. Perhaps eclipsed by its big-screen successor (Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady), The Long Walk to Finchley was taken to task by Carol Thatcher for its portrayal of a slightly foul-mouthed young Maggie. Nevertheless, it’s a fun watch.
Mo (Channel 4, 2010)
Undoubtedly the most moving of the five, Channel 4’s portrayal of Mo Mowlam bagged an Emmy award for its star, Julie Walters. Beginning with the dawn of the Blair government (a moment which seems to have inspired more than one screenwriter), the film tackled the anguish and absurdities of the Northern Ireland peace process with a humour and muscle of which its subject would have no doubt approved. If nothing else, the film immortalised the famous moment Mowlam silenced a ranting Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness by removing her wig. Excellent stuff.
A Very English Scandal (BBC One, 2018)
Finally, it’s time for one of the television hits of last year: BBC One’s prime time dramatisation of the stranger-than-fiction Jeremy Thorpe scandal. With its wonderful humour and occasional lump-in-throat moments, A Very English Scandal marked a triumphant return to form for Queer as Folk and Doctor Who supremo Russell T Davies (he’s the one who wrote all the beautiful David Tennant episodes before Doctor Who descended into self-satisfied fantasy rubbish). While the Barnstaple shooting and its aftermath inevitably form the main focus of this three-part series, Davies gives justified screen-time to the political backdrop, including the re-emergence of the Liberal Party and its jostling factions. The scenes between Thorpe and his fellow parliamentary conspirator Peter Bessell are a joy to behold. Watch it on iPlayer if you haven’t already.