During the last election, acclaimed writer Sally Wainwright was seriously fed-up. She was exasperated -- like many voters -- because she felt she had no one to vote for. But Wainwright didn't let her sense of despair keep her down for long. In typically inspired fashion, she drew on her sense of disillusionment with conventional politics to create The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard.
Wainwright, one of the UK's leading TV dramatists, recalls, "At the last election, I got into a real state because I thought the parties were all as bad as each other. I just didn't know who to vote for. At first, I thought I wouldn't vote at all -- I know that's a terrible thing to do, but I just felt that no politicians were speaking my language.
"Then, all of a sudden, I thought instead of being so apathetic, I should stand for Parliament myself! In the end, though, I couldn't do it -- I'm just not tough enough. But it did give me the idea for The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard. I thought it would be great fun to write an epic story with a central character who was prepared to stand up and point this out.
"I hit on the notion of someone so disillusioned with normal politics that she decides to go into it herself. I thought that was a great starting point for a drama. Also, the fact that at the beginning this character knows nothing about politics is a good way to take the audience with you."
And so it has proved. The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard makes for sparkling entertainment. The premise of the drama is deceptively simple. A supermarket manager, Mrs. Ros Pritchard (played by the wonderful Jane Horrocks), tired of feeling let down by conventional politicians, decides to run for Parliament. Before you can say "landslide," she is heading a dynamic party called the Purple Alliance, which she leads all the way to No. 10 Downing Street.
According to Wainwright, "Mrs. Pritchard is bold enough -- or some may say daft enough -- to stand for Parliament on the assumption that she can do just as badly as any of them but at least she will be honest."
With her refreshing, straight-talking approach, Mrs. Pritchard represents a breath of fresh air in the stale atmosphere of established politics. "Politics is traditionally bound up in self-interest, if not corruption," observes Wainwright, previously responsible for such hits as The Taming Of The Shrew, The Canterbury Tales, Sparkhouse, At Home With The Braithwaites, and Jane Hall.
"All politicians use double-speak. When they're asked a straight question, they can never give a straight answer. On the Today Program, they will never answer a question directly. It's like a game to show how clever they are by undermining a question rather than answering it.
"This drama is about Mrs. Pritchard being able to say, 'a good reason to vote for me is that I'm not a politician, I'm not corrupted and I'm not part of the Establishment.' Still, she's amazed when she actually does get elected!"
Mrs. Pritchard's campaign builds up a head of steam when by a sheer fluke, she manages to get a slot on Newsnight (a British daily news analysis, current affairs and politics television program). After that, housewives and mums phone up and say 'I want to join!' Soon, backbenchers and frontbenchers are defecting to her Purple Alliance.
"She strikes a chord because she says it like it is," explains Wainwright. "Mrs. Pritchard starts with no political agenda. She just gets people together and knocks out a manifesto. They're common-sense policies. Borrowing from the Left and stealing from the Right, she's at the center of the center, the middle of Middle England. What she achieves is like a revolution. It's bigger than even Tony Blair's landslide in 1997."
Wainwright was delighted when Jane Horrocks accepted the title role in the drama. "She's a marvelous actress. People will absolutely believe that she is Mrs. Pritchard. On one level, she seems very ordinary, like a woman who runs a supermarket. But on another, she has steel and inner resources. She also possesses massive intelligence -- she's sharp and bright and deep enough to take on a role of such huge responsibility."
Through the figure of Mrs. Pritchard, Wainwright was also able to explore the potential impact on politics if it were feminized. "I thought this would be an exciting new way to look at politics. There are so few women in politics because it's such a macho, Machiavellian game. Women are more straightforward -- they don't play the power games that men do. Those women who are in politics have to be very tough because they have to fit in with the very male environment. They have to adopt a masculine mentality."
The program does seem timely, Wainwright affirms. "But I wrote it long before the struggles at the top of New Labour. It came out of my deep disillusionment with Labour over what Tony Blair said about Iraq. I just couldn't believe what he said. I felt really disappointed because I liked him. Think of the exhilaration and the optimism on the night he was elected in 1997. Remember all those joyful people singing Things Can Only Get Better outside the Festival Hall in London? In so many ways, Tony Blair's done a fantastic job, yet what he did over Iraq was inexcusable."
If Wainwright has one hope, it is that the drama might help re-engage people in thinking about politics. "We shouldn't feel disenfranchised from the whole process. Writing this made me realize just what a bubble politicians live in. That was only reinforced by the recent plots and upheavals in New Labour. Because they live in the self-contained Westminster Village, the Labour MPs couldn't see that they were doing exactly what the Tories used to do. It's depressing that they're so cut off from people. Mrs. Pritchard picks up on that and passes a bill to move Parliament to Bradford.
"The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard is a fantasy about an idealistic world where this ordinary, sensible woman becomes Prime Minister. It could happen -- at least I'd like to think it could! Thought I personally would be the worst person to be a politician -- I'd end up swearing at people! My heart would be in the right place, but you need so much more than that. You need a massive ability to communicate and compartmentalize, which I don't have. I'd be abysmal, but it's always nice to fantasize!"