12 September 2009

Time for a Scottish political drama?

Jubilantly, this week had me expelling a particularly extensive project from my proverbial corner of the professional peat hags. My relief is palpable. And then, like an anvil lobbed from a tall building, the weight of inactivity hits you. After life’s fitful fever, he sleeps well.

What to do now, I agonised? Despairing of the bare walls of my garret providing any inspiration, I stalked into the Glaswegian streets, at last, after much travailing, resting my tired feet in a hostelry in that city’s western district. And then, as my Deuchars ebbed to a half-draught, the divine Muse Calliope slapped my phizog with her laurel leaf of inspiration.

We’re dominated by American political films, the hero-priest of presidency cults, and homicidal alien forces whose primary mission seems to be flattening the White House. Of course, the British got there first, giving Washington and its presidential bungalow a good singeing during the War of 1812. Its tempting to analyse the persisting re-enactment of this fiery tableau – substituting googly-eyed extraterrestrials for the redcoats – as the fell spectre of a vengeful George III exhaled from the bilious fog of the collective American unconscious, come back to punish the errant nose-thumbing of the States’ founding sons. And after all – isn’t the widely mooted American glee and self-subordination to the swank of “British” accents not a form of defensive sublimation attempting to erase this sweating folk memory and the vestigial terror of the misbehaving child with an overcoming and overstated scoosh and gush of unmerited admiration?

But my primary point concerned political dramas. Obviously, dominating the firmament is the West Wing. For myself, a continuing favourite is the House of Cards trilogy. As an aficionado of the wondrous malice of Jacobean tragedy, Andrew Davies managed to massage the themes and the atmosphere into a more modern setting tremendously well. How some keen-sighted producer found in Michael Dobbs’ novel the germ of the television programme, I have no idea. I’ve rarely encountered prose more lumpen – and female characters more obviously and ludicrously scripted from a sweaty-palmed, sausage-fingered male perspective. Nor can Dobbs be credited with Francis Urqhart’s much quoted saw, or the splendidly creepy henchman that is Colin Jeavons’ Tim Stamper, another brace of owings to the estimable Davies. For those who have not yet encountered it, I urgently encourage you to seek it out.

At the time, though I’ve not revisited it, I enjoyed the Deal (2003). Partly, this comes from the simple novelty of seeing a system and a culture with which you are relatively familiar dramatised. I’m sure other Scots experience a similar frisson at the limited number of popular dramatisations in a Scottish setting, Ian Rankin's Rebus, Taggart et al. In last night’s episode of the former, I noticed that one of the characters was an MSP – I presume a Tory – and along with the nudgings of the Muse, it got me to wondering – what might a fictionalised Scottish parliamentary drama be like? Would it work, could it? I’ve read Boiling a Frog by Christopher Brookmyre, which trades in the imaginative space of a devolved Scotland and the Parliament, but wasn’t wholly convinced by it.

Perhaps a phantasmal version of the Foulkes to Secretary-General spangly fairy story I suggested earlier in the week?

Shambling Gurn: the George Foulkes Story (2012) is uplifting tale of a talentless soak who accidentally shuffles, like a confused extra, into the eye of the camera… From the voice of one crying for devolution from the Westminster wilderness to a triumphal entry to his parliament in 2007, Foulkes’ story is Scotland’s story, his face the leathery map of his land, thirsty for freedom. The lines slowly folding his august, statsman’s brow telling of his people’s travails and torments on their cobbled path to devolution...

My bladder is already pinching with excitement and anticipation! Moreover, watching Rebus yesterday, I think we have a strong presumptive candidate to play Georgie, in fellow Lothians look-alike, Ken Stott...


  1. Inspired casting, but what about the rest of the dramatis personae...?
    To kick off, Anne Francine (Fran in Crocodile Dundee)for Auntie Annabel...

  2. What about an update of MacBeth? Wee Eck of course as the eponymous king, exiled to London but enticed back by the 3 witches (take your pick for the casting) to kill off poor Duncan played by Jim Swinney. I'm not sure who to cast as Lady M and Malcolm's a bit problematic - Auntie Annabel, Tavish the viking or Gray the grey are all a bit uncharismatic let alone ruthless enough. Still if the reports of Des Browne coming to Holyrood (or Birnam Wood in the series) are true, there's your man.