When Nick Clegg and David Cameron stood united in that rose garden, seven days after the May 2010 election, we all wondered what had gone on behind closed doors. Like a Shakespearean drama, Clegg’s struggle for power was mysterious, emotionally wrought and full of catch-22s. But we never got to actually see those back room dealings, sleepless nights and tense meetings. Now we can. Sort of.
Channel 4’s one-off drama Coalition re-imagines that fateful week that resulted in the Liberal Democrat-Conservative government we have now. Actors Bertie Carvel, Mark Gatiss, Mark Dexter and Ian Grieve respectively play David Cameron, Peter Mandelson, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown. And they transform into the leaders alarmingly well.
Coalition writer James Graham has recently put on political plays Privacy and This House, and for Channel 4’s drama he talked to lots of big players across the political spectrum, including spending a bit of time at number 11 with chancellor George Osborne. “Luckily they were brilliantly keen to get their side of the story across,” Graham told RadioTimes.com and other journalists. So while the drama is a fictional re-telling of events, its extensive research makes it feel thrillingly real.
So here are the major political players as you’ve never seen them before…
Bertie Carvel as Nick Clegg:
The real Clegg: As the Lib Dem leader, he had to decide whether to form a coalition with the David Cameron’s party, or with Gordon Brown’s Labour party.
The TV Clegg: Played as a confused, and very stressed man, torn between pragmatism and his conscience. Carvel makes Clegg’s dilemma so tense that you forget you already know the outcome. Panicked, forlorn and downtrodden, he leaves you feeling relieved you’ve never been in politics.
Bertie Carvel on playing Clegg: “I didn’t want to try to copy Clegg entirely but I watched his speeches and wondered why a particular moment would have an irregular rhythm, and I’d try to imagine the psychology behind him.
Mark Gatiss as Peter Mandelson:
The real Peter Mandelson: As Labour’s business secretary, Mandelson was one of the key architects behind New Labour. He oversaw the fateful 2010 general election campaign which failed to get the party a majority. Mandelson was twice forced to resign from the Cabinet but had enough pulling power to make a couple of comebacks.
The TV Mandelson: Camp, sly and wise, Mandelson is perhaps the most intriguing character on-screen. There’s a great where he rings up [Cabinet Secretary] Gus O’Donnell and says, ‘We’re coming in.’ O’Donnell says, ‘You can’t,’ and Mandelson says, ‘Yes we can, Gordon’s still Prime Minister.’ O’Donnell says, ‘Well, technically,’ and Mandelson says, ‘Not technically. Actually.’ ”
Gatiss on playing Mandelson: “I don’t know where we’d be without YouTube, I watched endless speeches and videos of him. He’s always fascinated me.
“There’s something you can’t help but admire about politicians, they’re like old soldiers or wrestlers. I had the realisation that as a punter we don’t know the half of it. People tar them all with the same brush and it makes me very cross. Theres no money, terrible hours. And everyone is now encouraged to think they’re all there to get their faces in the trough.
“Obviously there’s also the drama and subterfuge and backstabbing which we know is there too.”
Kasia is a TV, film and arts journalist who writes news, feautures and comment. She spends a lot of time feeling nostalgic about 90s American films and working her way back through the Desert Island Discs archive.