Political Drama – What Drama?

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Quintin Oliver (Director, Stratagem)

As part of its 15th anniversary celebrations, Stratagem hosted a political drama film and discussion event at The MAC.

Stratagem Director, Quintin Oliver, explained how he was motivated by a gift request from his son for a box set of the West Wing series. “He said it would be educational. I realised it was as much for me as it was for him,” Quintin said, making him ponder why there wasn’t a similar political drama series for “the Hill, in the Bay and at Holyrood” (Northern Ireland Assembly, Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament). “Is it because we don’t find our politics interesting enough, or are we too cynical even to watch politicians?” he asked.

Arlene Foster MLA (Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Investment) remarked on the strength of the creative industry in Northern Ireland. She also said that local politicians are able to take the satire or other dramatic portrayal, but “does the audience want it? Would they watch it? Are we mature enough for political drama here in Northern Ireland?”

A montage of clips from political dramas elsewhere was shown — learning about filibusters (West Wing), forming a coalition Government (Borgen), making life difficult for your political opponent (Party Animals), and the hard personal and political perspective of conflict negotiations (Mo).

The subsequent discussion panel included Simon Heath (Producer, BBC 2 series Party Animals), Tim Loane (Lead Writer, Teachers), Neil McKay (Producer, Mo), Mads Qvortrup (Lecturer in Comparative Politics, Cranfield University), and Lesley Riddoch (Broadcaster and Commentator).

Earlier in the day, Lesley and Mads discussed political drama with Wendy Austin on BBC Radio Ulster’s Talkback programme:

And later in the day, Neil McKay and Tim Loane did the same on UTV Live Tonight:

After the Stratagem event, I had the pleasure of joining the panel guests for dinner. Mads educated me on the origin of Borgen — a Dutch book about internal Conservative Party politics (Solitaire Royale) inspired a Dutch film of the same name, which in turn inspired a Dutch celebrity chef, Adam Price, to write Borgen.

We also carried forward the discussion on fantasy political drama projects. I made a pitch for a piece of political fiction — the American patriots don’t achieve a conclusive victory in the War of Independence; Westminster acknowledges and funds an American Loyalist Assembly (probably situated in upstate New York); and the Founding Fathers have to include this dimension as they draw up the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Unsurprisingly, none around the dinner table got excited about my proposal!

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