LDV Weekend Meme: five favourite political TV dramas

by Stephen Tall on June 14, 2009

It’s Sunday, sunny and the elections are over – so why not indulge in the latest LDV meme: what’s your favourite political TV drama? Mine, in reverse order:

5. State of Play – tense and taut, journalism mixed with politics. Fab writer (Paul Abbott), wonderful cast (David Morrissey, John Simm, Kelly McDonald, Bill Nighy), great drama.

4. A Very British Coup
– slightly dated, but still enjoyable, Chris Mullin’s story of a socialist Labour government doing battle with the British establishment in the ’80s is both funny and plausible. Sublime performance by Ray McAnally as Sheffield steel-worker Harry Perkins.

3. The House of Cards – the famous coincidence of the first series airing simultaneously with Margaret Thatcher’s dramatic downfall earned the show’s place in telly folklore; but it stands the test of time, and Ian Richardson’s menacing portrayal and asides to camera (“You might very well think that, I couldn’t possibly comment”) is mesmerising.

2. GBH – fantastically written by Alan Bleasdale and quite superbly acted by Robert Lindsay, Michael Palin and Lindsay Duncan, this is the definitive British political drama, capturing perfectly the interplay of cock-up and conspiracy, high and low politics, and good and bad intentions which govern this country.

1. The West Wing – quite simply the best written and best acted drama series ever broadcast. (If you ignore Season 5 anyway). Most of us owe our scant knowledge of the US political system to TWW, which somehow managed to make even the dryest of legislative process into gripping, witty, perceptive dialogue. Here’s one of my favourite clips, from Democrat President Bartlet’s TV debate with Republican challenger Governor Ritchie – enjoy:

And I’m tagging all Lib Dem bloggers, but especially last week’s Golden Dozen bloggers: Alex Wilcock, Nich Starling, James Graham, Mark Valladares, ‘Costigan Quist’, Caron Lindsay, Lisa Harding and Jonathan Calder.

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No comments

Impossible to improve upon that list, unless you count Edge Of Darkness as political. Certainly Britain’s never had anything as popular and authentic as The West Wing, and given the nature of television in this country it’s unlikely we ever will.

by burkesworks on June 14, 2009 at 5:25 pm. Reply #

I would put the West Wing at number five on the list. Its far too cheesey and schmaltzy, full of politicians acting magmanimously.

A Very British Coup for the acting and House of Cards for the plot.

We need more programmes of this quality.

by matt severn on June 14, 2009 at 5:34 pm. Reply #

Stephen – surely you’re not old enough to remember 2, 3 and 4?

What about ‘Our Friends in the North’? If you can forgive Daniel Craig and Christopher Eccleston in calamitous 70s hairdos.

by Ruth Bright on June 14, 2009 at 6:48 pm. Reply #

1. A Very British Coup
2. Stand up, stand up for Nigel Barton (I hope I have remembered the title of Potter’s play correctly)
3. The Politician’s Wife
4. The Detective (starring Tom Bell)
5. Our Friends in the North

by Frank H Little on June 15, 2009 at 1:44 am. Reply #

I would certainly put Edge of Darkness on that list. And Season Four of The Wire is simply the best portrayal of political campaigning in any TV drama.

I wouldn’t include The West Wing. It’s well-written and well-made, but it’s a wish-fulfilment fantasy.

Frankly, though, politics is best addressed in comedy. Yes, Minister and The Thick Of It knock this lot into a cocked hat.

by Iain Coleman on June 15, 2009 at 2:29 am. Reply #

Nothing ‘knocks this lot into a cocked hat’. That’s riduculous.

The Wire is political, in the widest sense of the term. It acts questions about the role of institutions, targets, urban deprivation, the war on drugs etc. And it asks these questions with both a subtlety and a power that has not been matched.

Edge of Darkness, I agree, is also more impressive than a Very British Coup if you like a healthy dose of Old Labour paranoia.

by anon on June 15, 2009 at 9:02 am. Reply #

Sorry- acts = asks. Too early in the morning!

by anon on June 15, 2009 at 9:03 am. Reply #

What was wrong with Season 5 then?

by Malcolm Todd on June 15, 2009 at 9:20 am. Reply #

I vaguely remember a TV drama some years ago about a political party that was loosely based on the Lib Dems with the party headquarters sharing a building with a brothel in Soho. I think it was written by someone who had worked for the party.

No one I’ve spoken to remembers it, does anyone here know what it was called?

by Anders on June 15, 2009 at 11:53 am. Reply #

Actually, I can answer my own question as I’ve now just been told the answer (after ages trying to find out). It was “In the Red” by Mark Tavener. He did once work for the party and it was a novel, radio play and on TV with a very strong cast that included Stephen Fry, Rik Mayall, Warren Clarke…

He also wrote Absolute Power.

by Anders on June 15, 2009 at 12:02 pm. Reply #

I watched A Very British Coup recently and laughed until tears ran down my face.

The whole survival of the socialist Labour government that Chris Mullin fantasised into being in 1987 rested on the Prime Minister doing a deal with the Russians whereby the Soviets lent the UK tens of billions of pounds in exchange for requiring the US to pull its forces (notably the strategic bomber bases) out of the UK. This tactic saved the supposedly-bankrupt UK from having to go to the IMF for a bail-out and accept anti-socialist spending cuts.

A year after this was filmed, however, the Warsaw Pact collapsed in bankruptcy.

A Very British Coup was utterly naive fantasy that provides a telling insight into the minds of the die-hard socialist left in the early 1980s.

by Tom Papworth on June 15, 2009 at 1:53 pm. Reply #

My apoligies for the length of the sentence in paragraph 2.

Or should I say, the length of the sentence that was paragraph 2.

by Tom Papworth on June 15, 2009 at 1:55 pm. Reply #

Series 5 of the Wire was still great. Indeed, it asks very important questions about the viability and role of the newspaper and its part in our democracy.

by anon on June 16, 2009 at 12:39 pm. Reply #

Thanks for tagging me while I was on holiday. I have just posted my five.

by Jonathan Calder on June 17, 2009 at 8:59 pm. Reply #

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