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2nd March 2022

Lights, Camera, Election: Casting our vote on the best political films and TV

Our writers consider their favourite political films, in light of the student elections
Lights, Camera, Election: Casting our vote on the best political films and TV
Photo: nekal3000 @ Flickr.

It’s the most exciting time of year at the University of Manchester…student elections! We at the film section were racking our brains thinking how can we seamlessly link film and TV to such a momentous event? We came up with the most ingenious idea that we could think of; a list of our favourite political classics. Maybe this selection will give you the chance to reflect and start thinking politically, or even just remind you that the elections are, in fact, happening. So without further ado, here they are, our writers’ favourites:


Napoleon Dynamite – Sophie Hicks

I don’t think I could have picked any other film but Napoleon Dynamite (2004), which seems incredibly fitting for the theme. If you haven’t seen Napoleon Dynamite somehow, it follows Napoleon who is the most awkward guy at school imaginable. He deals with the typical antics of being a student, such as struggling with romantic pursuits, dealing with his family and helping his friend run for class president, naturally. This includes many antics, with the introduction of arguably one of the most iconic t-shirts in film history, the ‘Vote for Pedro’ classic. If you’ve seen the film, you also probably can’t listen to ‘Canned Heat’ by Jamiroquai the same ever again.

For those wanting to compete in this year’s SU elections, take notes from Pedro’s campaign: don’t be afraid to be yourself, and the more interesting the campaign, the better. I love this film and it’s one of those ones that I put on whenever I either don’t know what I want to watch or if I just want a good laugh. Whilst not the most ‘serious’ political film, it did make an entire Millennial/Gen Z audience remember a fictional class president election, and I think that’s pretty impressive.


Sorry To Bother You – Daniel Collins

In the midst of elections, strikes and a turbulent political landscape, Sorry To Bother You is a film that comes to mind. Lakeith Stanfield stars as Cassius Green, rising through the ranks of telemarketing by adopting a ‘white voice’ in order to sell stuff… and more stuff and more stuff until the stuff he’s selling suddenly takes on a more sinister nature. The film quickly turns into a mix of zany, absurdist comedy and sharp political analysis – deconstructing ideas surrounding race, capitalism, trade unions, the contemporary art world and much more. It is rare to even see a strike in a fiction film never mind have it be one of the main plot points but this is the singular work of writer-director-musician Boots Riley, a self-identified communist and political activist. However, this is far from the didactic work you might expect when you hear such a label. This is invigorating cinema that may leave you outraged, shocked or even just confused but oozes style with its bold costumes, colour palette and cinematography. Come for the nuanced political discussion but stay for Tessa Thompson wearing oversized yellow and red earrings that read “MURDER, MURDER, MURDER” , “KILL, KILL, KILL”. 


Veep – Joe McFadden

Incompetence, corruption, and an underlying disdain for the democratic process are just three of the things Veep has in common with the SU elections. Following Vice-President Selina Meyer, played by eight-time emmy winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and her team of idiotic sycophants, Veep is expert satire that also functions as a fitting commentary, or rather condemnation, of American politics. One of the most-acclaimed shows of the past 10 years, Veep stands in stark contrast to The West Wing (read more below) as being a cynical, pessimistic condemnation of politics, greed, and human nature that has gone unchallenged in its terrifyingly realistic depiction of high level American politics.

Over the course of its 7 seasons (2012-2019), the show manages to weave together what were once outlandish storylines like an electoral college tie, foreign interference in elections, and a data breach scandal, with its potent mix of comedy and grounded realism. In Veep any ideals of public service or the betterment of others is a myth, or better yet, the punchline to one of creator Armando Iannucci’s piercing one-liners. The show is perhaps the most realistic depiction of politics put to screen as, despite its increasingly ludicrous premises, it manages to maintain an honest approach to how absurd and self-serving politics really is. 

Throughout its time on the air, Veep also managed to show how increasingly absurd politics was (and still is) becoming – even as reality threatened to infringe on the satire’s territory. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when American politics jumped the proverbial shark and descended into the drug-induced fever dream that has been the past few years but as reality became ever more bewildering, Veep managed to keep its satire grounded as contemporary events tried to rival its absurdity. 

Like its British predecessor The Thick of It, the humour in Veep is riotous and constantly entertaining as the onslaught of insults, inappropriate one-liners, and understated physical comedy make for an experience that is unrivalled by anything on TV since. Another secret to the show’s success was its characters. Ranging from Selina’s effeminate and meek body man Gary Walsh (Tony Hale) to cutthroat D.C. adviser Dan Egan (Reid Scott) and the “world’s biggest single-celled organism” Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons), the characters are also fully-realised and fleshed out, with each one bringing a different level of incompetence or bloodsucking ambition to the table, making for high quality TV that brings new meaning to a Hobbesian view of human nature. Clearly, Veep has earned its reputation as one of the best shows of the past decade

Ultimately, Veep functions as a fitting commentary on contemporary politics and, as we enter the SU election period, could easily be seen as a blueprint for how to steal win an election. For all its spiel about the “will of the people”, Veep shows how the current political climate simply treats democracy as an inconvenience for those seeking power and SU elections are no different. Notoriously corrupt and treated as something of a joke amongst students – indeed this paper is even guilty of knocking them from time to time – SU elections are seen not as the manifestations of student ideals, but as a method for some students to get £20k tax free by simply sitting on their arses and making the occasional Instagram infographic.

As we begin to watch another cycle of corruption scandals, daytime tv-level drama, and inevitable broken promises, Veep provides a blueprint for how a candidate could be successful in any election – although I would much rather see someone rise above greed and take The West Wing’s approach.


The West Wing – Ella Robinson

When I think of an ideal version of politics I think of The West Wing, and it seems I am not alone in this as viewership spiked after Trump’s election. It’s a programme where people in power fight based on what’s right, rather than what’s easy, and staff attend war veteran’s funerals at Christmas not illegal Christmas parties.

For those running in the SU elections, and for those trying to shake the voter apathy, The West Wing provides a brilliant starting point.

If you’re disillusioned with the SU exec roles after years of scandal the first message Leo McGarry has for you is why not run? “Because I’m tired of it: year after year after year, having to choose between the lesser of ‘who cares?’

If you are running, The West Wing debate episodes may provide some useful pointers. With hustings coming up (February 28-March 2), and in a year where it has felt like exec spend longer on their Instagram’s than policies, Bartlet’s message “Give me the next ten words. How are we going to do it?” is particularly pertinent. Especially when amongst young people it feels like ‘short attention spans’ get used as an excuse to not engage intelligently with the student body.

And if you take on all The West Wing’s advice so far and do get elected, the guidance doesn’t stop there. Even the Obama administration adopted The West Wing’s version of the ‘big block of cheese day’. Whilst CJ was listening to the “Organization of Cartographers for Social Equality”, you can be listening to highly engaged students. There are always people who know more than you, so work with them.

At times people criticise The West Wing for being too idealist, too impossible to achieve, but we aren’t trying to change the United States of America we are trying to change the University of Manchester. There’s no deep south or opposition Congress to contend with, there’s just highly intelligent students who too want this university to be a better place. So, let’s be idealist for once, and pick the candidates we deserve. 

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