Whatever you may think about politics, the forthcoming General Election is, as always, the dominate topic in the UK. Judging by the intense purdah period however, it is set to be one of the most divisive in recent memory. With the vitriolic to and fro due to last for another week, one can be forgiven for being completely distorted by the whole ordeal and seeking the comfort of a good movie instead.
Yet film can also be a surprisingly powerful ally to decipher this present uncertainty. Filmmakers specifically in the UK have constantly aimed to broadening the public’s cognizance beyond mere party policies and virtues. Whether it’s bestowing necessary humility on our elected officials or offering transgressive interpretations of a disenfranchised nation, the want to make sense of our politics has undertaken many forms of narrative cinema. Therefore, as the General Election is but a week, we at UK Film Review have narrowed these works to five essential albeit distinct feature length films to watch in preparation.
List by: Ieuan Walker
1) The Humanist Perspective: No Love for Johnnie (Ralph Thomas, 1961)
It is nowadays conventional in for political figures to be portrayed in film and TV as dysfunctional as opposed to utterly infallible representatives. That is not to say prior examples neglected the maladroit aspects of our elected officials. Indeed, the inevitable conflict between their personal and professional lives of politicians was commonplace even in the earliest representations of UK statecraft. Yet few did so at the time with the same audacity as No Love for Johnnie.
Peter Finch immaculately stars as fictional Labour MP Johnny Byrne whose impending midlife crisis leads him down an alcohol-fueled route of adulterous escapades. No Love for Johnnie is not a mere harangue against corruption though. The complexity of Mordecai Richler and Nicholas Phipps’ screenplay arises in their exploration Johnnie’s humanity alongside those inevitable flaws that come with it. Compared to the actions of some elected representatives, invented or otherwise, such a depiction may appear tame in 2019. Notwithstanding, No Love for Johnnie is a potent reminder that individuals we entrust to govern the nation are as human as those who vote them in.
Further Viewing: Scandal (Michael Caton-Jones, 1989)
2) The Ominous Forecast: The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer (Kevin Billington, 1970)
Upon release, The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer was generally considered a lackluster satirical effort by Peter Cook which subsequently halted the legendary comedian’s transition to the big screen. Be that as it may, a retrospective view of the work proves just how attuned Cook, and co- screenwriters John Cleese, Graham Chapman, and Kevin Billington, were to the evolving political landscape. The Rise and Rise portrays the ascendancy of the eponymous pollster via a penchant for public surveys. Even as his tactic is admired for its ostensible augmentation of democracy, Rimmer mendaciously manipulates then exploits the results to pander to the demands of the electorate.
The black comedy was initially dismissed by audiences as an impossibly cynical prediction for the UK political future. Fast forward fifty years and the ethically suspect acquisition of information by Cambridge Analytica alongside the Vote Leave campaign have subsequently verified the screenwriters’ scepticism of voter databases. Although Cook’s portrayal of the Machiavellian figure has failed to improve with age, The Rise and Rise is therefore quintessential for its eerily accurate acumen of present UK electioneering.
Further Viewing: The Mouse That Roared (Jack Arnold, 1959)
3) The Requisite Biopic: The Deal (Stephen Frears, 2003)
Due to its comparatively meager viewing ratings upon release, audiences are possibly less aware of the TV film The Deal than its sequel The Queen. Notwithstanding, the former is an equally essential component to comprehending the contemporary British political timeline. As the Thatcher and Blair administrations were among the most eventful in UK history, the interim is often overlooked in importance. Yet the events surrounding the 1994 Labour leadership contest between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as they are depicted in The Deal were seismic in their reconfiguration of party politics as we know them today. The minimal action superficially implied in the film may therefore suggest a dull viewing experience. However, the vitalization of Peter Morgan’s scintillating screenplay by Michael Sheen and David Morrissey relentlessly seizes the spectator’s attention throughout.
Of course, the contents of a historically based film should never be taken as gospel and The Deal is no exception. The film is nevertheless vital to assessing the UK’s current political situation by reconsidering its past.
Further Viewing: The Special Relationship (Richard Loncraine, 2010)
4) The Experimental Take: Loon (Fabrizio Federico, 2017)
Compared to the previous entries, one may struggle to witness the political pertinence of the abrasively eccentric Loon. With little plot to detail, the film follows the activities of mentally ill troublemaker Charlie as he misguidedly navigates his day to day. Whilst this ostensibly has little to do with contemporary governance, Fabrizio Federico’s continuous allusions to Brexit as well as increasing number of terror incidents leaves the relationship unambiguous. In lieu of an explicit statement, the director fearlessly opts to provide a grating insight into the disenfranchised youth psychology with shocking and, oftentimes, offensive results.
Throughout Loon: the protagonists are detestable, their dialogue is, at times, reprehensible, and the aesthetic is simply disconcerting. Nonetheless, the film does not exist to be an enjoyable experience. Rather, it is a brazen warning of the caustic costs when the government neglects the pressures of future generations in their appeasement of the present one. Federico’s CCTV inspired imagery of Loon demonstrably encapsulates a demographic that simultaneously abandoned and under constant surveillance. In turn, this reminds the spectator of how the forthcoming election is greater than just one or two key issues and of the necessity of representation at all levels.
Further Viewing: Bait (Mark Jenkin, 2019)
5) The One-Film Summary: Brexit: The Uncivil War (Toby Haynes, 2019)
The next election will undoubtedly determine a lot more than the UK’s future with the EU. Notwithstanding the title, Toby Hayne’s recent TV-film is far more than an outline of this landmark legislation. Throughout Brexit: The Uncivil War, Benedict Cumberbatch leads a pristine cast as Leave Campaign architect Dominic Cummings in this reinterpretation of how the vote of the 52% was won. On the surface, James Graham’s Sorkin-esque script, coupled with Matthew Canning’s breathless editing, offers a surprisingly captivating interpretation of how the events of 2016 were no mere accident. As Brexit concludes, they were ultimately an intricately crafted crusade from both sides wherein simply the more ‘compelling’ side were victorious.
Brexit is not just an indispensable work for this digestible reimagining of a complex series of events. On a deeper level, Haynes’ film examines the evolving methodologies of politicking in an exceedingly digitised world. With any major sea change comes a new set of ethics and responsibilities that are not always swiftly accepted. With its ominously open-ended conclusion, Brexit demands that its audience interrogate the future free-will of the electorate. That is not to say that it is a biased film. Instead, it questions who would have resorted to such electioneering first were it not employed in the 2016 referendum and where it can go next.
Further Viewing: The Party (Sally Potter, 2017)