The 10 best political dramas to stream right now
Some might argue that the last few years have been nothing more than a political drama, with tumultuous political, public health and economic times dominating many of our lives, you may well want a break from politics right now, and who could blame you?
However, whatever the mood of the nation, there are always going to be shows made about our political systems, because at the end of the day these are the people and institutions who control many aspects of the way we live. Our laws, our education, our safety and our prosperity.
Therefore it is no surprise that writers and audiences are often fascinated by the political classes, the decisions made behind closed doors and the absolute power, that some believe will corrupt.
We’ve picked ten great shows that have more than a dose of politics at their heart. There are a couple of comedies in there too to lighten the mood, but all of these shows are things you should watch if politics is something you savour…
10. This England
Is it too soon? Well, many will argue it is – but if you are ready to begin reliving the COVID-19 pandemic from the point of view of Boris Johnson and his government as they battle with the early stages of the devastating and deadly virus, then this show from acclaimed filmmaker Michael Winterbottom is certainly one you should try. Starring the excellent Kenneth Branagh as Boris Johnson in his early months in office, this at-times harrowing story blends facts with drama as the many familiar faces from our screens on the news at the time come alive as life and death decisions take place before our eyes.
9. The Crown
Although the role of the Queen is to be constitutionally separate from the day-to-day politics of government, there is no doubt that the fact each and every Prime Minister has a weekly audience with the monarch proves what an important influence the crown has on the nation. In this exceptional Netflix dramatisation of the reign of the late Queen Elizabeth II we see Prime Ministers come and go and political decisions play out across the country and the world. Starring Claire Foy, then Olivia Colman and most recently Imelda Staunton in the lead role, this is a political series to treasure.
8. Yes, Prime Minister
Not a drama, but one of the most important political shows of its generation, the satirical minds of Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn created a show that did something seemingly impossible, it appealed to both the political classes and people who didn’t like politics in equal measure. Starring an incredible acting trio of Paul Eddington as Jim Hacker, Nigel Hawthorne as Sir Humphrey Appleby and Derek Fowlds as Bernard Wooley this is a brilliantly well-observed show that will have you thinking as much about what really happens in the corridors of power as much as it will have you laughing.
7. A Very English Scandal
Starring Hugh Grant as Liberal MP Jeremy Thorpe this fascinating story from the pen of Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies explores a huge scandal that would erupt in the 1970s in England around an affair between Thrope and a young man called Norman Josiffe. A combination of forbidden love, blackmail, plotting and political manoeuvring, this is a gripping and beautifully executed piece of television that co-stars the fantastic Ben Wishaw as Josiffe.
6. John Adams
One of the great HBO miniseries (and that’s saying something by the very high standards of HBO) this seven-part series from 2008 starred Paul Giamatti and charts the first 50 years of the existence of the United States of America. With a large ensemble cast of brilliant names including Laura Linney, Justin Theroux, Stephen Dillane and Rufus Sewell to name but a few, this period drama is beautifully scripted and perfectly placed to take you back to 18th Century America at a time of extreme change and political turmoil.
Produced by Danish public broadcaster DR who already had international sensation The Killing under their belt, this was one of several Scandinavian hits of the 2010s that would achieve mainstream success in the English-speaking world. Named Borgen after the colloquial name for the Christianborg Palace, where all three branches of the Danish government reside, the show is based o the story of Birgitte Nyborg Christensen, a minor league centrist politician who goes on to become the first female Prime Minister of Denmark against the odds.
4. The Thick of It
OK, another one that’s not exactly a drama (although I’d argue there are dramatic elements to it), you can’t really have a political list without including The Thick of It. Written and directed by Armando Iannucci, one of the great television satirists of his generation (and also the creator of Veep, which isn’t included as I thought two comedies from the same man would be too many) this story of a government minister and his advisors attempting to navigate problem after problem is one of the best shows of its time. Starring Doctor Who’s Peter Capaldi as the excellent Malcolm Tucker, this is a show that must be on your political watchlist (or re-watchlist).
3. State of Play
From the pen of Paul Abbott, one of the most accomplished British screenwriters of the modern era, this brilliant BBC drama from 2003 tells the story of a newspaper’s investigation into the death of a political researcher and centres on the relationship between a senior journalist and a Member of Parliament who was the employer of the murdered researcher. A thrilling and incredibly tense political drama the show has a brilliant cast that includes David Morrissey, John Simm, Kelly Macdonald, Polly Walker, Bill Nighy, and James McAvoy.
2. House of Cards (UK)
One of the best political thrillers ever to have been committed to tape, this story, set at the end of the Margaret Thatcher government is centred around the exploits of the politically and personally manipulative Francis Urquhart (played by Ian Richardson). The show was adapted by Andrew Davies from the novel of Michael Dobbs and follows a machiavellian plot to bring down the Prime Minister – but at what cost and to who remains a question the viewer is left to decide as the series comes to an end.
1. The West Wing
If ever there was a show that would make a normal person want to become a politician it would be The West Wing. Aaron Sorkin’s masterpiece showcases the writer’s ability to make everyone who ever speaks seem clever and articulate, while also trying to change the world. Starring Martin Sheen as President Bartlet, this optimistic vision of a liberal American leadership driven by hope and ambition to be better is one that divides opinion depending on which side of the political spectrum you may live; but in television terms, the cast, the production and the scripts are hard to argue with as anything but first class.
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