We’ve been watching The Politician’s Husband, a BBC three-parter about the machinations of two married Westminster politicians starring David Tennant and Emily Watson – and, truth to tell, it’s not a particularly good series. It’s got good actors (although – forgive me, Whovians – I’m not seeing what’s so great about David Tennant, although that may be due to the writing), but even they can’t do much with the generic, clichéd writing. Guess what: politicians are either corrupted by their position or they’ve been corrupt all along! They’re more busy playing power games than they are working on improving things for their electorate! They’re manipulative, shallow and don’t deserve your votes! Yeah, I know… That’s some amazingly new insight into politics, or at least TV politics, and it’s in no way cheap cynicism, eh? Anyway, even that sort of thing can work as a TV series, but The Politician’s Husband is written in a way that can only be called lazy, hamfisted and self-congratulatory.
To be fair, though, I don’t know that many series that manage to turn politics into good television, let alone films. It is possible, though, to come at this complex and often-maligned issue in more interesting ways, so let me mention my three favourite politics-themed programmes, in no particular order:
1) The West Wing
The daddy of them all. Yes, it’s a liberal, centre-left fantasy, but it’s got wit, heart, a willingness to face up to the ambiguities of politics and a fantastic ensemble cast. Does it get weaker after Sorkin leaves? Definitely, but it remains a good show, and it becomes genuinely great again in its final years as Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda (as a Republican!) cross blades in the race to the White House.
2) The Thick Of It
I’ve only seen season 1 (and a lone episode from season 3, watched on a long flight), but if The West Wing is too idealistic, this is the perfect antidote, and Peter Capaldi’s Malcolm Tucker is one of the most memorable characters in all of TV. The thing is, while The Thick Of It is viciously satirical about politics, I don’t think it’s glibly cynical – its criticism is more of the systems that grind even hopeful into political duds, rather than LOLpoliticians! And have I mentioned Malcolm Tucker?
3) House of Cards
The BBC original, that is, not the Netflix reimagining. Ian Richardson is the perfect political descendant of Shakespeare’s Tricky Dick the Third, making the audience his confidant. The two following series get progressively weaker, and especially The Final Cut is a pale shadow of the original, but has Richardson has ever done anything sharper, more droll or more chilling? I couldn’t possibly comment.