23 Films You Have To Watch For A Political Education

It would be fair to call this the week of the political film.

If you’re in the mood for something contemporary, there’s Kathryn Bigelow’s thrilling, ultimately unsettling look at the events between the tragedy of 9/11 and the eventual capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’.

Or, for something more retrospective, Steven Spielberg offers his take on ‘Lincoln’, with a tireless look at how Honest Abe juggled the competing interests in his government, brought the country out of civil war AND quenched slavery while he was at it… well, that’s one reading.

There’s obviously a market for the political drama and/or thriller, with cinema seats filled by viewers happy to sit through three hours of celluloid entertainment – possibly the same people who would have blanched at half an hour with a newspaper. But is it an education? Or too subjective to help? Should it be left to the historians? Discuss. My personal take is that it’s a lot better than nothing, and hopefully an introductory light on subjects that would never otherwise see the light of day. But it’s not the end of the story.

In the meantime, here are, off the top of my head, 23 other political films for a bit of political homework, if these two above have whetted your appetite, or so you can swot up in readiness for any and all pub discussions on Vietnam, slavery, impeachment… and through it all, the seeds of corruption. Have you got a favourite? Or one we’ve missed? Let me know…

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  • 13 Days – Story of the Cuban missile crisis

  • The American President

    Aaron Sorkin’s big screen rehearsal for The West Wing.

  • Lincoln

    Steven Spielberg’s take on America’s most beloved President.

  • The War Room

    Documentary charting the inside track on Bill Clinton’s campaign to become the President.

  • Young Mr Lincoln

    Henry Fonda stars in yet another take on Honest Abe.

  • Primary Colours

    A campaign with a charismatic frontrunner – what could possibly go wrong?

  • Nixon

    Sir Anthony Hopkins channels a battered but not broken Richard Nixon at the height of the Watergate troubles.

  • The Queen

    The British Royal Family must rely on the Blair PR machine to avoid the UK becoming a republic in the wake of Princess Diana’s death.

  • Invictus

    Rugby and freedom from apartheid in South Africa

  • The Fog of War

    Robert McNamara, in his dotage, reflects on what went right and wrong in US politics during the Vietnam war.

  • Charlie Wilson’s War

    A drama based on a Texas congressman Charlie Wilson’s covert dealings in Afghanistan, where his efforts to assist rebels in their war with the Soviets have some unforeseen and long-reaching effects.

  • Amazing Grace

    Benedict Cumberbatch, Ion Gruffud star. The idealist William Wilberforce maneuvers his way through Parliament, endeavoring to end the British transatlantic slave trade.

  • The Ides of March

    George Clooney and Ryan Gosling in the tale of a young political activist forced to compromise his ideals as his celebrated candidate proves to have very human foibles.

  • The Ghost Writer

    Ewan McGregor runs into problems when faced with task of ghosting the memoirs of a charismatic US politician (Pierce Brosnan).

  • The Manchurian Candidate

    Both in Frank Sinatra’s original or Denzel Washington’s remake, this story delves into the brainwashing of captured soldiers for sinister purposes. Chilling.

  • All The President’s Men

    Dustin Hoffman, Robert Redford in this tale of the press being the last frontier between politicians and absolute corruption. No wonder Borgen’s Katrine has got their poster on her door.

  • Good Night and Good Luck

    Broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow looks to bring down Senator Joseph McCarthy.

  • Mr Smith Goes To Washington

    A naive man is appointed to fill a vacancy in the US Senate. His plans promptly collide with political corruption, but he doesn’t back down. James Stewart – who else?

  • The Candidate

    Two CEOs seize an opportunity to oust long-term congressman Cam Brady (Will Ferrell) by putting up a rival candidate. Their man: naive Marty Huggins (Zach Galifianakis), director of the local Tourism Center.

  • Bulworth

    IMDB: A suicidally disillusioned liberal politician puts a contract out on himself and takes the opportunity to be bluntly honest with his voters by affecting the rhythms and speech of hip-hop music and culture.

  • Bob Roberts

    Tim Robbins stars. IMDB: A corrupt rightwing folksinger runs a crooked election campaign while only one independent muck-raking reporter is trying to stop him.

  • JFK

    … and how tragically it can all end. Oliver Stone’s exhaustive theories about what happened in Dallas on 22 November 1963.