Since BoJo’s shoddy work in England won’t stand the test of time, what political dramas will?
Much like the Prime Minister’s reign of its subject Boris Johnson, This England (Sky Atlantic, Wednesdays; available on demand) is an unholy mess, untimely, misjudged and failing to read viewers’ moods.
he best political dramas stand the test of time, transcending their immediate context. This England certainly not. Here are a few that have and a few that haven’t.
House of Cards (UK)
Between them, the 1990 BBC original and its two sequels, play king and The final cut, all adapted by Andrew Davies from the novels by Michael Dobbs, packed more wit and thrill into 12 episodes than the Netflix remake (see below) managed in six seasons.
The late Ian Richardson is superb as the Machiavellian and ultimately murderous Conservative Party chief whip Francis Urquhart, who pulls off a grand scheme to become Prime Minister. Having Urquhart break the fourth wall to confide in viewers was Davies’ idea and became the show’s signature.
Washington: behind closed doors
It’s extraordinary that television has never had the time to do a full-scale drama about Watergate. The closest was this 1975 six-part miniseries, a fictionalized tale based in part on The company, a roman-à-clef by Nixon assistant John Ehrlichman, who served time in prison for his involvement in Watergate.
The soapy subplots about the romantic lives of various young interns didn’t fare well, but it’s worth seeing for the gorgeous Jason Robards as petty, paranoid, and power-hungry American President Richard N Monckton.
State of play
Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of Paul Abbott’s political thriller, which is both a fascinating time capsule from a fading media era where people bought newspapers made from real paper in droves,
and also a conspiracy thread that is as engrossing now as it was when it first aired.
John Simm plays journalist Cal McCaffrey, whose investigation into what looks like the drug-related murder of a 15-year-old teenager gradually reveals a conspiracy involving high-ranking politicians and the oil industry.
House of Cards (USA)
Popular opinion is that sexual misconduct allegations against Kevin Spacey, whom Netflix promptly fired, are behind this loose remake of the BBC original (see above) to collapse.
In truth, once Spacey’s Frank Underwood became president at the end of the second season, the show had nowhere to go except into ever-diminishing and ever-dumber circles. By the time of the truncated and Spacey-less final season, many of us had long since lost interest.
The west wing
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I know people who have watched The west wing from beginning to end twice, even three times. But given what has happened to American politics and society since Donald Trump was elected, can we ever look at it again with a straight face?
What once seemed realistic, if more than a little idealistic, now plays as much like a utopian fantasy as the original. StarTrek.
Some might see portraying Peter Morgan’s real-life royal saga (aside from the fictional parts) as a political drama as a bit of a stretch. But there has been a political element to each season.
But the limits of Morgan’s vision were exposed in the most recent season four. It featured Margaret Thatcher, played by Gillian Anderson, but managed to completely ignore the miners’ strike, on the grounds that it was not directly linked to the royal family.
Then again, given the growing amount of nonsense Morgan invented in his scripts, The crown now feels as authentic as a six pound note anyway.
A very English scandal
Russell T Davies’ harrowing tale of the downfall of MP Jeremy Thorpe (a brilliant Hugh Grant), whose attempt to have his former lover Norman Scott (Ben Whishaw) murdered turned out grotesquely.
It plays like satire, but it’s still a chilling peek into the dark heart of a true political psychopath.