Oh snap, we’re in the thick of it

After the ‘shock’ announcement of a snap general election, Joe Holloran prepares us for June 8th by looking back at the history of politics on the big screen.

Joe Holloran
8th May 2017

Here we go again. After only two short years, the British people have been asked once again to put their faith in a new fixer. With the realistic choice of the next Prime Minister being an old Trot’ or Thatchter-lite, you would be forgiven for thinking Britain had been time warped back to the late 70s. Still, there is always film to prepare us for the upcoming barrage of sound-bites and smear campaigns. So, let’s take a look back at how the silver screen portrays general election campaigns both here and abroad.

Politics plays a role, either blatantly or subconsciously, in many films from outright propaganda pieces to allegorical works like 1984 or They Live. Sometimes however, the process of an election itself becomes the crux of a movie around which all other plot and character is constructed. This can first be seen in one of the greatest movies of all time, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, which shows how money and influence can rise you from an outspoken blowhard into a political leader.

Cinematic master Orson Wells as the titular Kane in perhaps the greatest political film of the all; Citizen Kane (1941). Image:IMDB

Since that time elections and political ambitions in Hollywood cinema are often shown in a comedic manner with films like The Campaign, Man of the Year and Bulworth. These like so many others attack the manner and form of political campaigning in general, while steering away from outright criticism of either candidates or even political parties.

Whilst American politics is a fertile ground for these kinds of stories, it is not the only country where these tales can be told. In 1998, the late Sir Christopher Lee started in Jinnah, which told the story of the founding of the new nation of Pakistan and the rise and election of its fist leader Muhammed Ali Jinnah in 1947. In 2013, Idris Elba gave a commanding performance as Nelson Mandela in the biopic Long Walk to Freedom. Both films are perfectly fine, but only portray the side of the leaders that they wanted us to see; both are highly hegemonic in unstable political climates. The Hollywood system seems to be naturally warier of elections and potential leaders and this shows in their films, with rare exceptions like the Oscar-winning Milk.

Surprisingly given our naturally cynical and satirical nature, Britain hasn’t produced a great number of films about the election process. Of the ones that have been produced, two stand out. Firstly, Ralph Thomas’s No Love For Johnnie, which tells the story of Labour MP Johnnie Burke and his struggle between his public persona and personal obligations. The end result is both a sympathetic look at the life of a good-intentioned MP while also heavily criticizing the system in which he operates. The second is not so generous is its portrayal. The Rise & Rise of Michael Rimmer was written by and stars John Cleese and Peter Cook, taking a scathingly brilliant look at the role of ‘spin’, opinion polls and PR in the upcoming General Election, with the left’s Harold Wilson and the right’s Enoch Powell as their targets.

Peter Cook (left) Monty Python star John Cleese (Right) in the oft-forgotten British political satire The Rise & Rise of Michael Rimmer. Image:IMDB

Having said all of that, I do encourage you all to vote if you are on the fence or ambivalent about it, because whilst the world of Whitehall may seem distance and uncaring, it does now and will into the future effect your lives and futures. Role on June 8th.

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