Powerful roles: To play the king

With news that Meryl Streep may portray the Iron Lady on the big screen, Pavan Amara looks at actors who have taken on the big political roles

David Cameron

The PM has just entered No 10 but already a gaggle of thespians has portrayed him, including satirist Alexander Armstrong, West End actor Jonny Sweet, and Gosford Park star Tom Hollander. Sweet, in When Boris Met Dave, had The Independent raving: "It took him barely seconds to convey his suitability for the post."

Benjamin Disraeli

Disraeli has been subject to some heavy analysis – not only by historians, but by the likes of John Gielgud, Ian McShane, Andrew Sachs and Antony Sher. McShane, taking the role in the film Disraeli: Portrait of a Romantic, well before the days of Lovejoy, is described on filmcritic.com as "perfectly cast and dominating almost every scene".

Margaret Thatcher

The Iron Lady is a plum challenge for any actress, and almost everybody from Sylvia Syms and Maureen Lipman to Patricia Hodge and Greta Scacchi have donned the blue twin-set and imperious expression. Lindsay Duncan in Margaret, in 2009, captured the hectoring tone so well that one critic said: "I started to feel like a frightened little schoolboy myself." Meryl Streep is the latest to express interest in the role.

Nelson Mandela

In 1993 Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize. Since then, many an actor has emerged to imitate the man. Sidney Poitier, Dennis Haysbert and Morgan Freeman have all taken on the role. The New York Times treated Freeman to a glowing review last year: "Mandela, played with gravity, grace and a crucial spark of mischief."

Clement Attlee

Voted the greatest Prime Minister of the 20th century, Attlee has been played by everyone from his own actor grandson, Richard Attlee, to Bill Paterson and James Taylor. Paterson beat Attlee's own flesh and blood to the perfect portrayal in Into the Storm last year – the Daily Mail regarded him as giving "the performance of the highest quality".

Bill Clinton

The Monica Lewinsky scandal glued America to its television screens: Dennis Quaid, Timothy Watters and Chris Cox attempted to have the same effect with their renditions of the former president. Slant Magazine singled out multi-award winning Quaid as "nailing the raspy Southern voice" but noted that he didn't quite capture Clinton's infamous charm.

Richard Nixon

Frank Langella, James McManus and even Ronald Reagan yearned to give a convincing performance of former president Richard Nixon on screen. All three succeeded with stellar reviews, but Times Online describes Langella's performance in Frost/Nixon as "unique, riveting and individual".

Tony Blair

The former prime minister has spawned a long list of imitators, including (interestingly) Jamie Foxx, Harry Enfield and, more seriously, Robert Lindsay, James Larkin and Ioan Gruffudd. But 42-year-old Bafta nominee Michael Sheen – who has played him in four different productions, including The Queen – is the daddy. The Independent hailed his performance in The Special Relationship as "an uncanny representation, enigmatic and unknowable".

Mo Mowlam

Julie Walters is the second actress to play the former Northern Ireland secretary – the first being Joanna Monro, who received lukewarm reviews. Walters's portrayal of the country's most popular politician succumbing to a brain tumour was a tour de force, winning her this year's Bafta for best actress, her sixth Bafta.

John F Kennedy

Any actor worth the price of a ticket knows the shortest path to an awards shortlist is to essay a high-profile historic figure. Apart from Mandela, few can match JFK. Jonathan Borst, Patrick Dempsey and Calum McNab have tackled the 35th president of the United States. Dempsey in JFK: Reckless Youth was described in The Sunday Times as "remarkable ... he has done something original".

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