Churchill and Thatcher are popular subjects—but what makes a good Downing Street flick? And when will we finally get the Gordon Brown biopic we deserve?by Caspar Salmon / July 18, 2017 / Leave a comment
Last week a new trailer was released for Darkest Hour, the second Winston Churchill biopic to grace our screens this year after the somewhat less dramatically titled Churchill. Why anybody in 2017 would want to see a film about a strong leader at a time of great conflict for Britain is anyone’s guess—but the fact remains that Churchill does seem to exert an on-screen appeal unlike that of any other British prime minister. Can anyone hope to match Churchill’s silver screen dominion?
Gary Oldman is the latest actor to incarnate the famously jowled wartime hero/racist, following in the steps of Brian Cox. The role has previously been taken on by such high profile names as Michael Gambon, John Lithgow, Albert Finney, Brendan Gleeson and Timothy Spall, making Churchill by far the meatiest and rewarding role out of Britain’s PMs. Margaret Thatcher comes a close second: she netted an Oscar for Meryl Streep in 2011, and has been portrayed (on television) by an array of rather classy actors from Greta Scacchi to Andrea Riseborough, via Lesley Manville and Lindsay Duncan.
So far, then, the key to getting a juicy biopic seems to be having an outsized personality and an easily imitable face and voice. Anyone with a hat and a cigar can do a rudimentary Winston, just as every Briton over the age of thirty has an imitation of the Iron Lady up their sleeve. (I’m still working on my reading of “I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten your name”, but it’s recognisably her.) This may account for the lack of famous portrayals of Britain’s best Prime Minister, Clement Attlee. For all that he brought in maternity leave and unemployment pay, created the NHS, and played a key part in founding the United Nations, Attlee could only get Patrick Troughton to play him. No Oscars for Clem!
Tony Blair is third-best represented of all the modern Prime Ministers, mostly due to Michael Sheen’s definitive performance of him in The Deal, The Queen and The Special Relationship. Sheen’s impression of Blair is uncanny, and he does great work elevating a character seemingly devoid of any internal conflict into something dramatically interesting. His portrayal…