Heart-throb actor Jonny Lee Miller has been signed up to play former prime minister Sir John Major in The Crown, alongside Dominic West as the Prince of Wales.
Such imaginative casting has long been the hallmark of dramas involving senior British politicians.
Who will ever forget Rock Hudson playing Harold Macmillan, opposite Elizabeth Taylor as his wife Dorothy, or the glamour the young Clint Eastwood brought to playing the maverick, gun-toting loner Edward Heath in the Common Market blockbuster Busting Down the Doors (1973)?
More recently, Gillian Anderson won awards for playing Margaret Thatcher in The Crown. But people forget that an equally glamorous actress played her in Young Margaret (1999).
Imaginative casting has long been the hallmark of dramas involving senior British politicians. People forget Pamela Anderson (pictured) played Margaret Thatcher in Young Margaret (1999)
‘High-level sources informed me that, in her youth, Margaret Thatcher would sometimes visit the Lincolnshire coast, near her home in Grantham,’ said screenwriter Peter Morgan.
‘So it seemed obvious to me that she could well have spent the summer months as a lifeguard. So we simply had to cast Pamela Anderson in the title role.’
The film chronicled the young Margaret Roberts’s romance with fellow lifeguard Denis Thatcher, played by David Hasselhoff.
In one scene, a French tourist, General Charles de Gaulle (played by veteran Dad’s Army actor Arnold Ridley), is washed out to sea by a giant wave. His family raise the alarm: ‘Au secours!’
‘He’s shouting for help! There’s no time to lose!’ says the bilingual young Margaret, refreshing her lipstick and changing into her skimpiest red swimsuit as fast as she can. ‘I don’t care if my cossie is too small — not when there’s a human life at stake!’ she gasps as she rushes into the sea.
In the next scene, she is seen dragging de Gaulle to safety, pursued by a shark, played by Charles Dance. In slow motion, Denis sprints along the beach in his Speedos to offer her a lingering kiss.
The film chronicled Margaret Roberts’s romance with fellow lifeguard Denis Thatcher, played by David Hasselhoff.
In The Punch (2003), Daniel Craig plays Labour’s deputy prime minister John Prescott. Faced with a ruthless gang of armed hecklers, Prescott knocks all ten of them out with a single punch.
As he hits the last of the brigands, he says: ‘And this one’s for Pauline!’ — a reference to his wife, who is played by Helena Bonham-Carter. Later in the film, Prescott shows his more sensitive side by risking his life to rescue a cat stuck up a tree. ‘It’s hungry work!’ he says, as he is cheered on by a crowd of grateful villagers. ‘But frankly I’d never eat a cat. It doesn’t seem right.’
More recently, maverick former Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe’s legendary appearance on Strictly Come Dancing was commemorated in the feature film Anton And Ann.
At first, Strictly regular Anton Du Beke is disappointed to be allotted the politician as his dance partner, but that is before he sees her. When she appears before him in her skin-tight ballgown, he is immediately smitten. ‘You’re so lithe! Together, we can win this!’ he tells Ann, who is played by Downton Abbey star Lily James.
In The Coalition: Fight To The Death (2018), the Netflix mini-series about the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition, David Cameron is played by Denzel Washington and Nick Clegg is portrayed by Jason Statham.
Meanwhile, Julian Clary takes the role of outgoing Labour leader Gordon Brown. ‘Not many people know how wonderfully witty and waspish Gordon is in real life,’ explains Clary. ‘I was greatly influenced by Kenneth Williams’s legendary performance as Enoch Powell in Sam Peckinpah’s Rivers Of Blood.’
Some experts continue to express doubts concerning the authenticity of many political dramas. ‘I never felt Rab C. Nesbitt looked entirely comfortable playing Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith,’ says historian and constitutional expert Lord (Peter) Hennessy. ‘To me, he failed to bring out his quieter, less comical side.’
Equally, the decision to cast Jimmy Nail and Keith Allen as Ed and David Miliband in the final series of The Crown has caused some eyebrows to be raised. ‘I wonder if Jimmy Nail is quite the right person to convey Ed Miliband’s scholarly temperament,’ says veteran political observer Will Hutton.
Nevertheless, Peter Morgan defends the casting. ‘There are those who say the scene in which the Miliband brothers attack each other with electric cattle-prods in the car park at Buckingham Palace is not based on real life,’ he says. ‘But no one has ever denied they were rivals for the Labour leadership, and one thing leads to another.’