Like Anupam Kher in Accidental Prime Minister, 8 stars who’ve dared to play real-life politicians in films
In a recent interview, actor Anupam Kher bemoaned the fact that his upcoming film, The Accident Prime Minister, was being talked about for the many controversies it had stirred up, when similar films made abroad are discussed for their quality.
“In any other place,” Kher told Arnab Goswami, “people have won Oscars for (roles like) this.” Kher plays former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh in the film, based on a book written by Dr Singh’s former media advisor, Sanjaya Baru. Being the author of the source material must surely have had certain perks; Baru is played by the decidedly more handsome Akshaye Khanna in The Accidental Prime Minister.
“I wish the talking points were about the hard work that I have put into this film, about the seven-to-eight months of preparation that went into doing this role successfully,” Kher continued, suggesting that his “delicate and sincere” portrayal of Dr Singh “will immortalise” the former PM, who served from 2004-2014.
Kher offered many examples of what he believed were similar examples in foreign cinema, where legendary actors played iconic politicians, to varying degrees of success. Here are some of them.
To his advantage, Daniel Day-Lewis based his performance as the late US president Abraham Lincoln not on hours of video footage - there isn’t any - but on written history. This also absolved him of the pressure of having to live up to the public’s understanding of Lincoln. He wasn’t always the first choice for the part - following their successful collaboration in Schindler’s List, Steven Spielberg had cast Liam Neeson in the role - but his performance was mesmerising, enough to win Day-Lewis his third Oscar.
The King’s Speech
The King’s Speech is perhaps director Tom Hooper’s most palatable Oscar-bait film (he’s made many), thanks in most part to Colin Firth’s empathetic performance as King George VI. The film pushed the politics of the age to the background, and focussed on Bertie’s - that’s what he was fondly known as - relationship with his vocal coach, played by Geoffrey Rush. The King’s Speech worked not because of its grand statements on war and peace, but because of the infinitely relatable desire to want to be heard.
Of all the Richard Nixon movies, especially Oliver Stone’s messy biopic, director Ron Howard’s deliriously entertaining drama is perhaps the best. It catches up with the American president years after his shocking resignation, having mostly retreated from the public eye, but bent on clearing his name. He agrees to a series of interviews by David Frost, a television journalist looking to alter his rather frivolous reputation. Thus begins a mental chess match featuring two players with a lot to prove, and even more to lose.
There have been many attempts to dramatise the life of Adolf Hitler, but as with many films on this list, the best happens to be the one that avoids the cradle-to-the-grave approach. Downfall, directed by Oliver Herschbeigel, focusses on Hitler’s final days, spent in retreat in a bunker, as the Allied forces closed in on his base. Starring Bruno Ganz as the dictator, Downfall is a thrilling, yet oddly sentimental film, whose legacy has been sort of tarnished by the endless stream of memes it has inspired.
There has been no better dramatist to write about Queen Elizabeth II than Peter Morgan, who has further explored his fascination with the British monarch with his hit Netflix series, The Crown. There will definitely be some sort of overlap in the story he told in The Queen, which won Helen Mirren her Oscar, and a future season of the Crown. But this is one of those situations where it wouldn’t hurt to watch the same tale told twice.
While some might prefer Idris Elba’s more traditional biopic on ‘Madiba’, as he was affectionately known by his people, I admire director Clint Eastwood’s sports film about how one man - Nelson Mandela, played by Morgan Freeman - united a divided nation through rugby. Also starring Matt Damon as the captain of the South African team, the film tackles thorny themes of racism through the universal appeal of sport. The trouble was this: while South Africa’s black population was partial to football, the white populace was more passionate about its uglier cousin. Invictus is a rousing drama that will move even the most cold-hearted viewers.
W was director Oliver Stone’s third and final film about American presidents. He began the series with 1991’s JFK, a thriller about the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination, and followed it up with 1995’s Nixon, in which Anthony Hopkins played the controversial president. W was more traditional in its structure than either of those films, and it revealed plainly Stone’s disrespect for George W Bush, played in W by Josh Brolin. Curiously, the filmmaker’s latest portrait of a controversial world leader was his four-part Showtime documentary series about Russian president Vladimir Putin, which was less critical than some American politicians would have liked.
In fairness, each of director Jay Roach’s political movies could find a place here, so consider this a recommendation not only for Game Change, his 2012 HBO drama about Sarah Palin, but also for Recount, and All the Way, as well. By far the best thing about Game Change is Julianne Moore’s spot-on performance as Palin, the Alaska governor who was chosen, to her surprise more than anyone else’s, to be the running mate for John McCain in the 2008 US presidential race. It is a performance that avoids an SNL-like caricature, however easy it might be, and chooses instead to humanise Palin.