Graeme Robertson with 4 great British political dramas to keep you entertained on election night…
Election fever has gripped the British people once more, with the country going to the polls to decide who will walk into Number 10.
Will it be “strong and stable” leadership of the incumbent Conservative leader and u-turn master Theresa May and her brilliant plan for Brexit, even if she still won’t really tell us the plan apart from “Brexit means Brexit”? Or will it be the very left-wing humourless dour faced haunted scarecrow that is Labour’s divisive leader Jeremy Corbyn and his plan to renationalise everything including the very air we breathe?
Well regardless of who will win, you can be guaranteed it’s going to be a long night of inconclusive exit polls, boring analysis from pundits, politicians arguing about whose party has more unlikable arseholes in their ranks and a near biblical onslaught of self-indulgent opinion pieces infesting the pages tomorrow’s broadsheets.
So until the real result becomes clear, I’ve written my own self-indulgent opinion piece for you all to enjoy, and in it, we’re going to take a look at four great British political dramas that are sure to keep you entertained throughout the long drag that is election night.
A Very British Coup (1988)
The ascendancy of Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party was greeted with mixed results, to say the least. Labour supporters both old and new were overjoyed to finally have a leader who seemed to move the party back to it’s working class focused roots, whereas the parliamentary party seemed horrified by this move from the centre ground and predict electoral oblivion under his leadership. While on the other side of the Commons, his political rivals on the right have reacted by regularly proclaiming doom and destruction for Britain if someone of the political mindset of Corbyn were to be elected to the premiership.
So what would happen if someone with the left-wing sensibilities of a Jeremy Corbyn were elected to the highest office in the land, would it be a glorious new dawn for the United Kingdom, or would “the Establishment” pull every trick in the book to undermine his desire to change the country fearing that his well-intended ambitions might be anything but. It is this scenario that is the focus of the acclaimed TV miniseries A Very British Coup.
Harry Perkins, the leader of the Labour Party is elected Prime Minister on a very left-wing campaign that pledges to break up media monopolies, end privatisation, enact nuclear disarmament, withdraw the UK from NATO and to remove US military bases from British soil. The new Perkins government soon finds itself under threat from a sinister conspiracy involving the American government, British media barons and the British intelligence services, who are alarmed by Perkins socialist ambitions and seek to have him removed.
Ray McNally (who was awarded a BAFTA for his efforts) gives a towering performance as Harry Perkins, the radical left-wing Labour Prime Minister whose idealistic plans for the country strike fear into the hearts of “The Establishment”.
McNally manages to imbue the character with a sort of affable charm and likeability with his plain speaking approach and good-humoured personality. Note his discussion of rail travel and his idea to abolish second class travel stating that “everyone is first class in my view”. It’s little lines such as that, that endears you to the guy, making him seem relatable and likeable, the sort of guy you could have a pint with. He’s certainly the type of personality that you’d want to vote for and by the end, you root for him to stay in power.
McNally is backed up with a large and varied supporting cast and most do fine jobs with their parts. I particularly liked the performance of Philip Madoc as Sir George Fision, the right-wing press baron who oozes arrogance and wealth, regularly heaping bile and scorn upon Perkins in his Red Top tabloid which resembles a certain real-life British tabloid owned by a certain all-powerful and some might say slightly evil Australian billionaire.
I also loved the performance of Alan McNaughton as Sir Percy Browne, the deeply sinister and all-knowing head of MI5, a powerful man eager to stop Perkins at all costs, even if it means undermining the democratic will of the people, continuing a family tradition of power grabbing and meddling that stretches back “yay unto the Middle Ages”.
Yet, as a final confrontation with Perkins reveals (in possibly the best moment of the series) we see that this rather cold and sinister exterior is merely a mask that hides a man deeply terrified by this radical new leader, and believes, rightly or wrongly, that to save the country he must overthrow him.
Now the political bias of the series is very evident from the get go, with the very left-wing Perkins being portrayed as a glorious new hope for Britain, while his right-wing critics are seen as the rather cliched sinister arrogant aristocrats with that very stereotypical posh and proper “well we can’t have that dear boy” sort of attitude.
The heavy use of Mozart’s operatic works like Requiem and Missa does seem to present the idea that Perkins is some kind of new Messiah for Britain and I’ll admit while it works in some moments (such as the downright apocalyptic opening credits) it does go a bit overboard sometimes.
Obviously, despite mine referring to him in the intro of this review, this series is not about Corbyn at all, with the series and Chris Mullin’s (himself a Labour MP) original 1982 novel being something of a political dream about the Labour Party, dreamt up during a time when its chances of winning power again were still a decade away and constantly being thwarted by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives.
However, it is still really weird when you compare the figures of Perkins and Corbyn with some of their positions and ambitions being not too dissimilar in some areas. You can even see some similarities in the way hat the press treats them, with the near constant hostility and fear that they will bring about some kind of Apocalyptic ruination of the country with their views on certain things.
Regardless of the Corbyn parallels that you could draw alongside it, A Very British Coup is a solid drama bolstered by a towering performance from McNally in a truly fascinating story of political intrigue and shady conspiracy building. While wearing its left wing biases proudly, I think that the calibre of the acting and the story is enough to even get the most ardent anti-socialist rooting for the charming figure that is Harry Perkins.