When an author is thinking of writing a novel or a screenplay, he or she usually digs for a theme that will interest an audience. The possibilities are endless as you can well imagine.
Here’s a suggestion. Politics can be a gold mine for the savvy writer. With the 2016 elections looming in the foreseeable future, you might like to think of writing something with a political theme.
Most countries have short political cycles for electing a national leader. In Australia it’s something like six weeks. Here in the USA it’s something like eighteen months if not two years. As I write this, we are still over a year away from the next presidential election. In that amount of time, you should be able to come up with a plot of some sort related to the political scene.
Films about politics come in all stripes. They can examine our greatest ideals or our worst fears. When one writes about politics, one is actually writing about power. Political stories all involve the basic elements of human character, integrity, morality, honesty—or, of course, the complete lack of any of those traits.
Politics is an awfully touchy subject because it involves people’s core concepts and beliefs on how an area or nation should be run, how its citizens should be treated and who’s fit to control all of it. One of the basic themes within the area of politics is the focusing on people in power or would-be power. Are they the most-qualified or the most moral or the most law-abiding? These are chief ingredients for any political film or novel.
I present here a list of a dozen political films that I have enjoyed over the years. They to me encapsulate an examination of the subject of politics. Some are old and some are more recent but they all show that the basic game in politics doesn’t change. You might like to see these films again or see them for the first time. Perhaps they will give you some inspiration for writing your own politically based screenplay or novel. At any rate, it’s the political season and that might spell opportunity for you if you’re searching for a theme. I hope you enjoy these films as much as I have.
|1. Advise and Consent: Senate investigation into the President’s newly nominated Secretary of State, gives light to a secret from the past, which may not only ruin the candidate but the President’s character as well.|
|2. The Best Man: Set in a political convention, this film explores the two extremes of stereotypical politicians—the dirty one who does whatever it takes to win (Cliff Robertson), and the one who relies on integrity and respectful tactics (Henry Fonda). Gore Vidal wrote this film that contains deplorable political maneuvers, infidelity and attacks on personal lives. It shows that even 50 years ago, politics were just as nasty as they are now (although people smoked a lot more).|
|3. The American President: (1995) Starring Michael Douglas and Annette Bening. Against the advice of his aides, a widower president decides to start dating in the middle of an election year. The object of his affection just happens to be lobbying for legislation he doesn’t want. Witty dialogue, and a great behind-the-scenes look at the White House.|
|4. The Candidate: Robert Redford plays a lawyer from California, Bill McKay, who’s recruited to run for the U. S. Senate. The problem is he doesn’t actually believe he’ll win (and he doesn’t really care.) Although McKay is inexperienced, he learns to garner goodwill—and votes—by using charismatic honesty. But eventually, the prospect of winning is too appealing, and he begins playing underhanded political games.|
|5. Duck Soup: Rufus T. Firefly is named president/dictator of bankrupt Freedonia and declares war on neighboring Sylvania over the love of wealthy Mrs. Teasdale (the remarkable Margret Dumont.) Political farce. (1933 with the Marx Brothers.)|
|6. The Manchurian Candidate: Eerie, shocking, daring, thrilling and mesmerizing, The Manchurian Candidate will leave you breathless. Featuring an all-star cast, including Angela Lansbury in an Oscar-nominated performance, this chilling and controversial film may be the most sophisticated political satire ever made. When a platoon of Korean War G.I.s is captured, they somehow end up at a ladies garden club party. Or do they? Major Bennett Marco (Frank Sinatra) can’t remember. As he searches for the answer, he discovers threads of a diabolical plot orchestrated by the utterly ruthless Mrs. Iselin (Lansbury) and involving her war hero son (Laurence Harvey), her worthless senator husband (James Gregory) and a secret cabal of enemy leaders.|
|7. Election: Okay, so it’s not a film about governmental politics, but what better setting for political satire than a high school? Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) is running for head of student council. Civics teacher Jim McAllister (Matthew Broderick) despises her and desperately wants to derail her progress, so he convinces football player (Chris Klein) to run against her. Shallow, power-hungry, selfish people do whatever it takes to get their way, including destroying others, proving that high school and politics are scarily similar (and frequently funny.)|
|8. All The King’s Men: Broderick Crawford plays Willie Stark, a Southern lawyer who has grand ideas for helping his state but no political experience. The opposition hires him to simply split the vote, but he wins, retains power, and (from his perspective) makes everything better — by toying with populist emotions and engaging in illegal, corrupt, and immoral behavior. It’s an engrossing look at the malignant influence of power and ambition, and how their acquisition often impels disreputable actions.|
|9. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington: This film chronicles the tale of Jefferson Smith (Jimmy Stewart.) He’s the leader of a boy-scout troop before being recruited to the Senate by a team that believes he’ll do whatever he’s told—specifically, allow the building of a dam that will make said team rich. Unlike Willie Stark in All The King’s Men, the main character isn’t corrupted by politics. Rather he defies and decries the corruption. Mr. Smith has major sentimental overtones and a desire for an ideal world. Never has a political theme had such old-fashion, feel-good moments. Stewart’s character displays a fortitude and integrity we wish all politicians had. It’s old, but it’s still incredibly good.|
|10. Seven Days in May: The story of a nearly successful military takeover of the U.S. government, Seven Days in May was scripted by Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling. This means the viewer is in for an exceptional political thriller. The movie’s strengths include a brilliant cast (Kirk Douglas, Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner, Fredric March) and director John Frankenheimer’s taut pacing of this scarily credible plot. When, near the end of the film, Douglas’s character, a career military man, finally confronts his one-time hero and now proven traitor, Gen. James Mattoon Scott (Lancaster), the macho tension between the two superstars is staggering.|
|11. All The President’s Men: This masterful drama about the downfall of President Richard Nixon features a slew of great American actors — Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman, Jason Robards and Jack Warden. The real star here is director Alan J. Pakula, who manages to invest what might have been an ordinary media tale of reporters Bob Woodward (Redford) and Carl Bernstein (Hoffman) into a most thoughtful thriller.|
|12. Frost/Nixon: A master class in intelligent acting, Frost/Nixon recreates the famous televised battle of wits between the disgraced former President Nixon, hoping to somehow rehabilitate his destroyed public image, and a British “celebrity” interviewer intent on making a name for himself in the States as a provocative reporter. Both men were more or less successful in their aims — but Ron Howard’s film finds high drama and political intrigue in the unexpectedly dynamics between these two very different men. Michael Sheen plays Frost as a suave terrier after the truth, while Frank Langella is more like a wary pit bull who is testy and intimidating.|
Now, what is your political novel or screenplay going to be about? In any case, good luck and good writing!