Notebook: Our Actors Are Queueing Up to Play Former Politicians-But Only on the Small Screen
Millard, Rosie, New Statesman (1996)
We can't get enough of our old politicians. It seems that, once they give up performing in the real world, they enter a twilight zone where they continue to operate in the realm of television drama--if their story is good enough. Recently, Harold Wilson has popped up in the shoes of Kenneth Cranham on BBC4 and James Bolam on BBC2, and next we are to be treated to the great Derek Jacobi playing the Chilean dictator General Pinochet, with Anna Massey doing a superb turn as his devoted ally Lady Thatcher. Pinochet in Suburbia, which screens on BBC2 at 9pm on Sunday 26 March, also features actors of the calibre of Michael Maloney (playing Jack Straw), Phyllida Law as Pinochet's wife, Lucia, Peter Capaldi as the head of Amnesty UK, and the comic Jessica Stevenson as a policewoman assigned to look after the general during his lengthy house arrest on the Wentworth estate, Surrey.
This sort of drama is conventionally known as low-budget, but Pinochet in Suburbia, with its swanky cast, multiple locations and special effects, looks very glossy, and has a budget somewhere in the region of [pounds sterling]800,000-[pounds sterling]900,000. It is the sort of money that could have almost funded a half-decent British independent feature film.
Richard Curson Smith, who wrote, directed and produced Pinochet in Suburbia, considers that British TV dramas can score over cinematic presentations because our small screen is so much more reliable than our silver screen. "Uncertain financing is the problem with British films. They can suddenly all fall through. It is very difficult if you have asked actors to commit a couple of months to a project which then all comes crashing down."
Equally, big stars are amenable to invitations to work on the box; in fact, they might welcome a call from a television company a bit more than the big hello from Pinewood Studios. …