With less than two weeks before the UK General Election, Neil Calloway looks at the connections between politicians and the film industry…
They say politics is show business for ugly people, but some people have crossed the line between the two, with varying degrees of success over the years.
Whoever wins the UK General Election, there will no longer be a double Oscar winner in the House of Commons; Glenda Jackson, the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn (and Hampstead and Highgate before that), will be standing down. Jackson is probably the most successful example of the actor/politician in Britain, but there have been others. If you’re worried that without an Oscar winner then Parliament will suffer, then Julian Fellowes, who won for his screenplay for Gosford Park – which now looks like a trial run for Downton Abbey – still sits on the Conservative benches in the House of Lords.
Last year the film The Riot Club, an adaptation of Laura Wade’s play Posh, got much publicity for the skewering it gave to the Oxford dining club the Bullingdon Club, which featured David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson among its members. Oddly though, one of the producers of The Riot Club was Peter Czernin, who was once a flatmate of David Cameron.
Our current Prime Minister is not the only holder of that office to have a personal connection with a film-maker; while he was at Oxford Tony Blair dated a Canadian student called Mary Harron, who would go on to direct I Shot Andy Warhol and American Psycho. It would be cruel to suggest she got any inspiration for her film about a vain psychopath from her former boyfriend. Another Labour Party leader, George Lansbury, was the grandfather of actress Angela Lansbury. The Labour Party/film connections don’t stop there, however; Richard Marquand, the director best known for helming Return of the Jedi, was the son of Hilary Marquand, a minister in the post-war Labour government; his brother, David, was also an MP for the Labour Party in the sixties and seventies. Bringing things up to date, Stephen Kinnock, Labour candidate for Aberavon in this year’s election, and son of former Labour leader Neil Kinnock (and the husband of Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the current Danish Prime Minister) took a role in a 2007 Russian film called Haute Couture Dress.
Labour don’t have a monopoly on strange politician cameos in obscure films, however; Michael Gove, Conservative former Education Secretary made an appearance as a public school Chaplain in the 1994 British film A Feast At Midnight, a film which stars Christopher Lee and features a nice pastiche of Jurassic Park.
US politics seems more friendly to those that make the jump from Hollywood to Washington. The obvious example is Ronald Reagan, who turned a middling career as an actor and being President of the Screen Actors Guild into becoming Governor of California and eventually US President. Of course, one of his successors as Governor of California was Arnold Schwarzenegger; the film Demolition Man makes a joke about him being President in the future; an impossibility as he wasn’t born in the US (but prophetic as it was made ten years before he entered politics). Arnie’s co-star in The Running Man and Predator, Jesse Ventura, who also pops up in Demolition Man, went on to be Governor of Minnesota between 1999 and 2003.
Schwarzenegger and Ventura aren’t the only action stars to get involved in politics; it was revealed this week at that in 2013 Vladimir Putin wanted Steven Seagal to act as an “honorary consul” to the US, in an attempt to repair relations between the two former Cold War adversaries.
Moving further east from Moscow, former North Korean leader Kim Jong Il was a huge fan of film; in 1973 he wrote the book “On the Art of the Cinema”, and more darkly, kidnapped the South Korean actress Choi Eun-hee. When Shin Sang-ok, a South Korean director and her former husband investigated her disappearance in Hong Kong, he too was kidnapped, and the pair were forced to make films for the North Korean regime. Happily, while in captivity they remarried. In 1986, they escaped to the US via a film festival in Vienna. After his arrival in the States Shin directed the film 3 Ninjas Knuckle Up, and in 1994 he sat on the jury at the Cannes Film Festival.
So, politics is show business for ugly people, but sometimes even those ugly people can’t help themselves and want to leave the trivial things like politics behind and get serious by working in film.
Neil Calloway is a pub quiz extraordinaire and Top Gun obsessive. Check back here every Sunday for future installments.