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Best Political Dramas of the 21st Century – The twentieth century had some great political films: All the President’s Men (1976), Citizen Kane (1941), Malcolm X (1992), The Manchurian Candidate (1962). So how do the political dramas of the twenty-first century compare?
Have there been any political dramas in the last twenty years that can stand up to the classics? In this feature, we’ll explore some of the best political dramas of the twenty-first century and highlight some of our favourites. For the best political TV shows visit Paste.
Best Political Dramas of the 21st Century
Directed by Ron Howard, Frost/Nixon is a film based on a series of interviews between journalist David Frost and former President Richard Nixon following the infamous Watergate Scandal of 1972.
In the film, David Frost is played by Michael Sheen and Richard Nixon is played by Frank Langella. It is an interesting exploration of the psyche of very different men and replicates the political drama that followed Watergate as President Nixon attempted to restore his reputation and Frost attempted to enhance his own. The movie is elevated by two brilliant leading performances and a great soundtrack by Hans Zimmer.
The film has a 93% approval rating from critics on the film review-aggregation site Rotten Tomatoes and 88% audience score, making it one of the highest-rated political films of the last twenty years. With the consensus being that “Frost/Nixon is weighty and eloquent; a cross between a boxing match and a ballet with Oscar-worthy performances.”(RottenTomatoes)
V for Vendetta (2005)
Based on the graphic novel written by Alan Moore and illustrated by David Lloyd, V for Vendetta is a political drama set in a dystopian 2020. It is a film about revolution, tyranny and fascism that is able to explore complex political themes in a way that is creative and endlessly entertaining.
A mark of the film’s tremendous global influence is the enduring nature of the symbols within the film such as the iconic Guy Fawkes mask worn by V. Since its release in 2005 the mask has been a regular feature in popular protests around the world. Perhaps more than any other film in the last twenty years, V for Vendetta has had real-world political impact.
The ever-mysterious and talented Daniel Day-Lewis plays Abraham Lincoln in Steven Spielberg’s award-winning drama about the life of the former US President. The film follows Lincoln as he attempts to win the Civil War and end slavery in the United States.
It is a dense and detailed film that portrays the politics of the time in a way that is engaging and full of drama. If you are into historical dramas then Lincoln, with a two-and-a-half-hour runtime, is a film that you can truly immerse yourself in.
As soon as the film was released it was declared a cinematic triumph by critics and audiences alike. Lincoln was nominated for twelve Academy Awards, more than any other film that year. The film also ranks fourteenth on Insider’s list of the best political movies ever made.
How AcCurate is Lincoln? (Slate)
Starring Natalie Portman as Jacqueline Kennedy, Jackie takes place in the aftermath of the assasination of President John F Kennedy. The film is centred on the former First Lady and provides a stark portrayal of the interaction between politics, grief and personal turmoil.
Many documentaries and films have been made about the assasination of John F Kennedy but Jackie is the first to really delve into how his death impacted Jacqueline Kennedy and their children.
Jackie has an 87% approval rating on RottenTomatoes and it received several Academy Award nominations, including a Best Actress nomination for Natalie Portman’s excellent portrayal of Jackie Kennedy.
The Wind that Shakes the Barley (2006)
The Wind Shakes the Barley directed by Ken Loach is about the Irish War of Independence and the subsequent Irish Civil War in the early twentieth century. If you are interested in modern Irish history this film is essential viewing.
The performances, especially those by Cillian Murphy, Liam Cunningham and Orla Fitzgerald, are captivating. The film won the prestigious Palme d’Or at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival and was lauded by critics and audiences alike.
When the BFI selected The Wind Shakes the Barley as their film of the month in 2011, they recognised that, “Loach [had] made a film of uncompromising, wintry bleakness, haunted by death and ravaged ideals”, and that the film was a rare cinematic and political achievement.
Selma is a film centred on the historic march from Selma to Montgomery led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr as the fight for civil rights in the United States reached a pivotal moment in 1965.
Martin Luther King is portrayed by David Oyelowo and the film is directed by the award-winning Ava DuVernay. If you are interested in the racial and political history of the United States in the 1950s and 1960s, Selma should definitely be on your watchlist.
Selma is also one of those rare films that hold a 99% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, marking it as one of the few political films in the twenty-first century to receive near-universal praise and support. It also ranks twenty-first on The Washington Post’s list of the best political movies ever made.
Milk is a film about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to hold public office in California. The film concerns the struggle for political equality for the LGBT community in San Francisco during the 1970s.
The film is as much as about Milk’s life as a gay rights activist as it is about the social and political climate of California in the 1970s. Harvey Milk is played by Sean Penn with supporting performances by Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin and Alison Pill. The film is often ranked as one of the best political movies ever and is included on this list of the best political films by The Playlist and this list by Insider.
10 Heroic Facts About Harvey Milk! (Mental Floss)
The Ides of March (2011)
The Ides of March is about everyone’s favourite topic: a political sex scandal. Directed by George Clooney, the film is about the rigour and resilience required to win an election in the United States. As the characters try to deal with scandals and political maneuvering, the audience gets to observe the way modern politics is often run.
The film also features an all-star cast including George Clooney, Ryan Gosling, Evan Rachel Wood, Marisa Tomei, Paul Giamatti, Jeffrey Wright and the late great Phillip Seymour Hoffman.
The Queen (2006)
Helen Mirren plays Queen Elizabeth II in Stephen Frears’s film about the Royal Family during the Blair years and following the death of Princess Diana. Today, people are enraptured with Netflix’s The Crown but The Queen provides an equally engrossing depiction of the politics and relationships within the Royal Family. Helen Mirren’s portrayal was even praised by the Queen herself.
If you’re intrigued by Helen Mirren playing the Queen then you should also check out the 2013 play by Peter Morgan titled The Audience.
What are your favourite political dramas of the 21st Century?
Beyond film there are also many great political TV dramas including The West Wing, House of Cards (UK and US), and The Wire. Alternatively, if you’re looking for political comedies and satires, The Death of Stalin and In The Loop also makes for a fascinating and often hilarious watch.
Ultimately, the best political dramas are never just about politics. In all of these films, you’ll find fascinating characters, intriguing plots and pressing moral questions. There have been many great political dramas so far this century, and undoubtedly there are many more to come.
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