Elections - whoever you vote for, the government always gets in, eh? We look at some of the best election films from around the world and consider what voting means to other people. Elections have been a popular subject for cinema since its birth, when only a tiny percentage of the world's population had the vote. As the two have grown up together, films have both mirrored and shaped the perspectives of voters.
Number one: If you're keen to vote in the forthcoming election and you think apathy is a problem, consider what it's like in other parts of the world where democracy is less established. As far as the soldier who looks after one sleepy Iranian village is concerned, everybody has been getting by just fine without it. He is confounded by the arrival of a forthright young woman whose job it is to persuade people to vote in the Secret Ballot. She, meanwhile, is out of her depth like Edward Woodward in The Wicker Man, but has a depth of conviction that will change things for all concerned.
Number two: The recent deaths of many senior Polish politicians, including president Lech Kaczynski, are a reminder of how fragile systems of government can be when things go wrong. A car crash involving the leader of the Danish Central Party plunges Denmark into political chaos in thriller King's Game, with the seemingly certain outcome of a forthcoming election suddenly thrown into doubt. Anders W Bertheson is the young journalist who finds himself caught up in political power games as rival candidates jockey for position. It's a film that focuses heavily on spin and on the ways that politicians may attempt to influence the media.
Number three: Do politicians' antics sometimes remind you of high school? For many, that's where politics begins, and Alexander Payne's blistering comedy Election takes us right back to those vicious youthful struggles for supremacy. Tracy (a formidable Reese Witherspoon) is running unopposed for class president. When an interfering teacher (Matthew Broderick) persuades a school sports star to run against her, which in turn triggers the emergence of a third candidate, we find out just how far Tracy will go to fulfil her ambition. The small scale of the contest doesn't trivialise but rather concentrates it. It's an astute look at the collision of the political and the personal with implications for much bigger events.
Number four: If politicians can start young, sometimes they can go on (and on, and on) well into old age as well. Documentary Run Granny Run takes a very different look at US politics from the perspective of 94-year-old Doris “Granny D” Haddock. Tired of the corruption she witnessed during the 2000 presidential election, Granny D walked right across the country, from coast to coast, in protest, before standing for the New Hampshire senate. The film follows her campaign and the difficulties she faces in getting taken seriously, plus the compromises she must make between her political and personal life. It gives an insight into the human aspects of politics that we rarely see.
Number five: Are you a fan of David Cameron's open-necked shirts, or do you prefer politicians who dress more traditionally? It's a black and white matter when it comes to the Penguin, whose other policies, as he campaigns to become Mayor of Gotham in Batman Returns, have more in common with the traditional values espouse satirically by Jonathan Swift. Fortunately the caped crusader is there to intervene by broadcasting his wicked words to a shocked audience. If only things were that simple in the real world. Perhaps if the franchise had lasted longer we would have seen him return as a policy advisor.
Number six: as Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner experienced, elections can be a dangerous business - especially if you're not a part of the establishment. Curiously, relatively few films have been made about the disenfranchised, despite the role reversal suggested by 1907 comedy When Women Vote and despite Alec Guinness discreetly smashing shop windows as Kind Hearts And Coronets' suffragette Lady Agatha. In Milk, Sean Penn speaks for many different minorities as he portrays the rise to power of Harvey Milk, America's first ever openly gay person to be elected to a position of power, but as Taxi Driver and JFK have shown us, when it comes to the crunch, there are people willing to take the law into their own hands.
Number seven: Of course, not every election is for an organisation that meets with mainstream approval When the big boss needs to be replaced, an intense political power struggle takes place between rival triad factions before and after their Election. Not only is there bribery and corruption in the run-up to the vote, there's also payback afterwards, something that's just as real (even if it takes different forms) in national elections but which is ignored by most election films as they focus on the big day. The film's concern with shifts in how politics is conducted mirrors goings-on in the wider world, and Johnny To makes sure there's plenty of action alongside the talk.
Number eight: Is crime also a factor when it comes to national elections? When do mistakes and reorganisation start to look like something suspicious? In documentary Stealing America: Vote By Vote, Dorothy Fadiman tries to track down to some of millions of votes that have been cast in America, over the years, only to disappear completely before being counted. It's a fascinating look at how easy it is to interfere with the governance of a country without any kind of violence, reminding us that this kind of thing doesn't just happen in developing countries.
Number nine: The Comic Strip Presents: GLC. Okay, it's not a film that has enjoyed a cinematic release, but it was massively popular nonetheless, and it has its own critique of Hollywood to make whilst telling to story of Ken Livingstone's attempt to rule London (the first time around). Robbie Coltrane played Charles Bronson playing Ken Livingstone with a heroic theme tune and lots of violence, whilst Jennifer Saunders as Brigitte Nielson was the sinister, perhaps even supernatural Ice Maiden; that is, Margaret Thatcher. Cynical asides came from a pipe-puffing Peter Richardson as Lee Van Cleef as Tony Benn. There's really nothing quite like it.
Number ten: not Downing Street, that is, but halfway across the world and back in time to Fifties Japan, where the prospect of a woman coming to power is thrilling those seeking to reinvent their war-ravaged country but seriously upsetting traditionalists. When the heroine of Zero Focus finds that her husband has mysteriously disappeared she travels north to look for him and finds herself captivated by the charismatic Sachiko (Hizuru Takachiho), a campaign organiser who may have dark secrets in her past. As the younger woman's simple values are confronted by a web of intrigue, the film asks what we are prepared to sacrifice for political change.