The Blog

Borgen Is Brillant. Why Can't Britain Seem to Make Decent Political Dramas Anymore?

There's very little serious drama looking at the people who run our country, the decisions they make that affect us all, and the general state of the nation.

So Borgen is finally back on our TV screens filling the hole left by The Killing and Homeland. Second series are often tricky things to get right, especially when the first was such a success; but on the evidence so far Borgen seems to be off to a good start.

This begs the question, why don't we seem to be able to do decent political television drama in this country anymore? We still do TV that covers political and social concerns; but these issues are often smuggled in, disguised within police thrillers and period productions. However there's very little serious drama looking at the people who run our country, the decisions they make that affect us all, and the general state of the nation.

Over the last two decades or so the US has produced The West Wing, John Adams, K Street, Boss, Homeland and The Newsroom (what The Hour would like to be). Even though they're science fiction and fantasy I'd still argue that Battlestar Galactica and Game of Thrones are as good as anything on the above list.

When we've tried to do something similar the results have not exactly been awe inspiring. For instance; The Amazing Mrs Pritchard, Party Animals, The State Within, The Last Enemy, Blackout and Absolute Power. None of these have been another House of Cards, G.B.H, State of Play, Edge of Darkness, Boys from the Black Stuff, Our Friends in the North or Bill Brand. There has been the odd one off drama that's been decent; The Road to East Finchley, Margaret, and Ten Days to War spring to mind, but these have been few and far between, and all based on real events/people.

Fictional political drama has been a rarer beast. Recently Channel 4 produced the four part mini-series Secret State to a not exactly rapturous response. The fact that it was a remake of the excellent A Very British Coup from 1988 demonstrates the paucity of ambition of current TV executives. Coincidentally a remake of Yes, Prime Minister is soon going to hit our screens and it'll be interesting to see how it fares. Revisiting past glories is rarely a good idea, especially when the original was so brilliant. Watching them again it's striking how each episode is as relevant now as it was thirty years ago.

Today you have to look to the world of comedy to find any decent political TV. The Thick of It and 2012 were both better, and more truthful, than anything else we've seen in the last few years. The most recent series of The Thick of It is meant to be the last; which is probably a good thing as real life frequently conspired to be more bizarre and embarrassing than anything the writers could come up with. If you'd written an episode where the mayor of London became stuck on a zipline, or the Chancellor of the Exchequer was threatened with being thrown out of a first class train carriage, you'd be accused of being too farfetched. It's almost like genuine politicians watched it every week and then bet each other whether they could do something more outlandish. Equally watching a fictional character being booed by tens of thousands of people inside the Olympic stadium just wouldn't have the same cringe inducing entertainment factor as the real thing.

Perhaps it's because we're simply too jaded about politics, and politicians in general, to enjoy the pantomime antics of a Francis Urquhart or Michael Murray; or too cynical to believe in a competent British heroic leader like President Bartlet. Either way, Borgen should keep us entertained for a few more weeks showing us how it ought to be done.