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This is a brilliantly readable account of what was indeed an extraordinary election in America in 2008.  It starts from the beginning, with the candidates announcing their intentions to run, thoroughly discussing the Democratic and Republican campaigns to get the nomination, and then the presidential campaign.  The Democratic nomination campaigns quickly became a two-person race, between the well-known Hillary Clinton and the newer face of Barack Obama.  (While I do think Obama is terrific and I was lucky enough to be in a blue state in America for both of his elections, this book reinforced my view that Hillary would also have done an excellent job.)  The book demonstrates how important the Iowa caucus was to both candidates, and how infighting and bad management of finances within Hillary’s campaign caused so many problems.  Barack Obama’s campaign, while certainly not without its problems and mis-steps, seemed to run much more smoothly, in the end helping to win the nomination for him instead of the Clinton powerhouse.  (I actually found Bill Clinton’s part in Hillary’s campaign to be fascinating, as it seemed to hinder her as much as help her.)

McCain’s campaign for the Republican nomination was not without its problems either, as many of the party viewed him with some suspicion.  However, he got the nomination and then faced an even tougher battle against the by this time seemingly unstoppable Obama.  The successful parts of his campaign are discussed, although at times there do not seem to be too many of them, and his bizarre choice of running mate is also examined in detail.

Sometimes I think if this was fiction and was made into a film, people would find it too unbelievable, but this is all true! The narrative is presented in an engaging tone, and it never feels dull or dry.  It also stays unbiased, and although it reports on some of the more unsavoury press which the candidates received during their campaigns, it never resorts to using the same tactics.  Overall, I would say that this is well worth a look to anybody with even a passing interest in politics or the election process.

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This film was adapted from the novel Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics, which was originally published anonymously, but was later revealed to have been written by journalist Joe Klein.

Young idealistic Henry Burton (Adrian Lester) is given a job on the campaign of Governor Jack Stanton (John Travolta), who is hoping to get the Democratic presidential nomination.  Burton is impressed by Stanton’s politics, but less pleased with his womanising ways.  Also working on the campaign are Stanton’s loyal and intelligent wife Susan (Emma Thompson), and his team of advisors, Richard Daisy and Howard (respectively, Billy Bob Thornton, Maura Tierney and Paul Guilfoyle).  Kathy Bates is in fine form as Libby, a longtime friend of the Stanton’s, who has previously received treatment for mental illness, who is also brought on board to assist.  As the campaign gathers steam, scandals about Stanton’s affairs and his previous arrest record threaten to destroy everything the team are fighting for.

Jack and Susan Stanton are VERY obviously based on Bill and Hillary Clinton, both in the book and the film – Travolta and Thompson even look like the Clintons.  It is hugely entertaining, whether or not you are interested in politics, with some genuinely funny moments, and a couple of big shocks.  Henry is ultimately divided between supporting Stanton the politician, and disagreeing with Stanton the womanising charmer.

Everyone in the cast did a great job, but I personally thought that Billy Bob Thornton stole most of his scenes.  Travolta did a good job of the sleazy but intelligent Governor, and Thompson was great as the long-suffering Susan, who is nonetheless vital to Stanton’s campaign.  Kathy Bates was unsurprisingly great as Libby.

I enjoyed the machinations of a political machine, the internal arguments (such as the question of whether to launch a negative campaign against his opponent; an idea which Stanton initially baulks at).

Overall, well worth a watch.  As mentioned earlier, an interest in politics is certainly not necessary to enjoy the film, but I think it would help.

Year of release: 1998

Director: Mike Nichols

Producers: Jonathan D Crane, Neil A Machlis, Mike Nichols, Michael Haley, Michele Imperato

Writers: Joe Klein (novel ‘Primary Colors: A Novel of Politics’), Elaine May

Main cast: John Travolta, Emma Thompson, Adrian Lester, Kathy Bates, Billy Bob Thornton, Paul Guilfoyle, Maura Tierney

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James Stewart is terrific in this 1948 documentary-style drama.  He plays journalist Jim McNeal, who is sent to cover a story of a man who has been in prison for eleven years, for murdering a policeman found guilty – on the testimony of just one eyewitness (despite two other witnesses saying that he was not the killer).  The film is based on the the true story of Joseph Majczek, although here his name is changed to Frank Wiecek.

Initially, McNeal is sceptical and thinks that Wiecek is probably guilty, and covers the story purely because his editor )Lee J. Cobb) wants him to.  However, as he uncovers more about what happened, McNeal starts to believe that the man is innocent and becomes determined to try and prove it.

The documentary-style really works, with a voiceover – which isn’t overused and therefore isn’t intrusive – giving salient facts to the viewer, and showing the action through McNeal’s eyes.

This is the sort of role that James Stewart was perfect for – a crusader for truth – and he is just wonderful.  He always has an immense likability, which means that it doesn’t matter if occasionally his character is irascible…and we like him for his tenacity.

The supporting cast are great too – especially Lee J. Cobb as McNeals boss Brian Kelly, and Kasia Orzazewski as Weicek’s mother.

I kind of guessed how things would turn out, despite not knowing the outcome of the real story at the time – and I was right – but nonetheless I found myself silently cheering McNeal and hoping that he would find the much needed proof of innocence.

Definitely an enjoyable film – exciting not because of action – but because of the viewer’s desire to see justice done.  It’s not one of James Stewart’s most popular films, but it’s definitely worth seeing.

Year of release: 1948

Director: Henry Hathaway

Writers: Jerome Cady, Jay Dratler, Leonard Hoffman, Quentin Reynolds, James P. McGuire (articles), Jack McPhaul (articles)

Main cast: James Stewart, Richard Conte, Lee J. Cobb, Betty Garde

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