July 10, 2013, by Zoë Goodwin

Picturing Politics: Disraeli on the big screen

Picturing Politics, a blog produced by the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham is host to a series of audio and video clips featuring academics commenting on the political significance of a diverse range of images.

The seventh post features Professor Steven Fielding who looks at George Arliss’ Academy award-winning role as the British Prime Minister in the 1930 film ‘Disraeli’. He looks at what the film reveals about our changed attitudes towards political leaders.

‘Disraeli’ was based on a 1910 play by the London based writer Louis Napoleon Parker. However, Fielding explains that it was not exactly an accurate account of the Prime Minister’s life.

Disraeli was presented as a heroic figure who personally thwarted a German spy ring based in and around 10 Downing Street. However, despite the slight exaggeration the play was extremely popular and led to two silent movies until the 1929 version which had the benefit of sound.

Fielding explains that actually it was only one of a number of films in the 1930s and 1940s which created such positive depictions of politicians. For this was a time when it was possible to show British politicians as selfless servants of the imperial state devoted to their monarch and King and keen to protect the interests of the people.

Although this is not entirely the truth, censorship at that time meant other views could not be shown.

Fielding then goes on to look at the most recent representation of Disraeli in the 1997 movie ‘Mrs Brown’ in which Anthony Sher played this Prime Minister. In this film, Sher depicted Disraeli as a self-interested figure, far from the heroic Disraeli from the earlier movies.

To conclude the clip, Fielding explains that although the real Disraeli had not changed, the popular attitudes towards political leadership had – well at least as measured in their cinematic depictions.

To listen to the full clip, click here.

Posted in Politics