Why TV can't get enough of real-life political drama

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Indy Politics

Politicians have never been so popular - with television producers, at least. This month will see the broadcast of the much-vaunted dramatisation of Tony Blair's troubled relationship with Gordon Brown. That will be followed by John Hurt as late Conservative minister Alan Clark, and Warren Clarke as a fictional Deputy Prime Minister with a more than passing resemblance to John Prescott.

Meanwhile, plans are under way for a TV film based on the Hutton inquiry. The Truth Game, to be shown on Channel 4 next year, will feature all manner of government figures, from the Prime Minister to Alastair Campbell, No 10's outgoing director of communications.

The appetite for dramas based on the machinations of contemporary British politicians has not gone unnoticed by industry observers. One said last night that it reflected a growing realisation that truth can often be stranger, and more dramatic, than fiction.

Of the political dramas in production, the first to air will be The Deal, starring Michael Sheen as Tony Blair and David Morrissey as Gordon Brown. Set to be screened on Channel 4 later this month, it focuses on the 1994 dinner at Islington's Granita restaurant at which Mr Blair is reputed to have promised to one day hand the Labour leadership to Mr Brown in return for his agreement not to stand against him at the time. TV writers are increasingly realising the "human interest" potential of political dramas. Peter Morgan, author of The Deal, says he has portrayed the Blair-Brown relationship like "a marriage".

"It seems to me incredibly sad that these two men have developed such a gulf, and it's terrible at the moment by all accounts," he said. "It's like a marriage in some ways, and when they break down it's terribly sad for those who remember what the two people used to be like together."

In another forthcoming drama, The Deputy, Warren Clarke, the star of Dalziel and Pascoe, will play a wannabe rock singer who rises, almost unwittingly, through Parliament to become Deputy Prime Minister. The BBC insists his character is entirely fictional - pointing out that, far from owning two Jaguars like Mr Prescott, he drives a Mini Metro - but it is hard to imagine viewers not seeing parallels with his equally gruff and saggy-eyed real-life counterpart.

It is not just present politicians who are inspiring the new batch of dramas. Veteran actor John Hurt is to star next year in The Alan Clark Diaries, a BBC4 adaptation of the colourful, often scandalous, memoirs of the philandering late Tory defence minister.

Going back further, meanwhile, the BBC is also planning a Dunkirk drama, in which Clement Attlee's grandson, Richard, will star as the post-war Labour Prime Minister. Colin Robertson, news editor of Broadcast magazine, says the current interest of TV drama chiefs in politics reflects an awareness that some of the most gripping plots and characters can be glimpsed in real-life situations.

"They are starting to think that, rather than contriving a drama ... why not just pick a real drama that's going on in the outside world as inspiration," he said.

"Things like the Andrew Gilligan affair and these film star-type characters such as Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell are all around us. A lot of people are thinking, 'why make it up when you can look at real life?'"