Unputdownable Articles – By Jeffrey


Writing, by its nature, is a solitary endeavour.

Film and TV is collaborative, with many people – director, actors, scriptwriter, technicians, camera operators, editors and the like – working together to create the finished product. As a storyteller, I often find myself drawn to television and film narratives that echo the same richness and complexity found in literature. These 10 titles stand out for their exceptional storytelling, character development and scripts that resonate with sympathetic insights into our lives. From the clever plot twists that challenge the mind to the deep emotional journeys that tug at the heartstrings, each represents a pinnacle of narrative art.

Unputdownable Top 10 Films & TV Shows - A Man for All Seasons


Fred Zinneman’s direction is wonderful, but what he also did was pick the most brilliant cast: Vanessa Redgrave, Robert Shaw, Orson Welles, the superlative Paul Scofield. Even the lesser names like John Hurt – who gives a staggering performance as Baron Rich – went on to be giants.

Do they make films like this anymore? I was asked exactly the same question about politics and politicians, recently. Do they make politicians like Margaret Thatcher, Douglas Hurd and Richard Crossman anymore? I’m a former MP and I couldn’t even name the current Cabinet. That says it all, really.

Unputdownable Top 10 Films & TV Shows - The Sting

2.  THE STING (1973)

Mention this film and people always think about Redford and Newman. Yes, they are an untouchable double act – the director, George Roy Hill, had put them together a few years earlier in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid – but the man who really makes the whole thing work is Robert Shaw, playing the mob boss, Lonnegan.

 I remember going to see this at the cinema and thinking how much fun it was to just sit back and enjoy the humour and the performances. Justifiably, it got nominated for 10 Oscars and won seven of them. There have been a lot of ‘sting’ films made since this came out, but few of them have even come close to this masterpiece.

The West Wing

3.  THE WEST WING (1999-2006)

By far the best TV series I have ever seen. Beautifully written by Aaron Sorkin – one of the most talented screenwriters of all time – and a powerful performance from Martin Sheen as President Jed Bartlet. So powerful that the American public wanted him to run for the actual Presidency!

I watch a lot of political drama and I’m sad to say that most of them get it wrong. You’re sitting on the sofa thinking, “That would never happen in the real world”. But when they get it right, as The West Wing did, it makes for magic telly. Interestingly, I read recently that Tony Blair never missed an episode.

Unputdownable Top 10 Films & TV Shows - Chariots of Fire


Fondly remembered for the iconic soundtrack by Vangelis, but of particular interest to me because I was also a sprinter in my younger days. In one sense, you could argue that the story is rather ridiculous because Harold Abrahams (Ben Cross) and Lord Burghley (part-inspiration for Nigel Havers’ character, Lord Lindsay) didn’t compete in the same Olympics. But does that matter? I actually saw the film with Adrian Metcalfe, who was the leading 400m runner of his day. As we came out, we looked at each other and said, “Who cares if it’s not factually correct? It’s still a damn good story!”

The Apartment

5.  THE APARTMENT (1960)

Directed by the incomparable Billy Wilder, this is not just a film, but a masterpiece of narrative artistry. Following on from Some Like It Hot, Wilder once again demonstrates his unique genius in the realm of comedy. It made me laugh, it made me cry… and ever eager to watch it many times over.

 The film’s brilliance lies not only in its exceptional script and direction, but also in its outstanding ensemble cast. Shirley MacLaine and Jack Kruschen deliver performances worthy of their Oscar nominations, embodying their characters with depth and authenticity. However, it’s Jack Lemmon who truly captivates. His portrayal is a blend of humour and pathos, balancing the film’s comedic elements with its underlying themes of loneliness and moral complexity. For me, he steals the show.

Like the best of Wilder’s work, The Apartment weaves humour with social commentary, exploring corporate culture in a way that is as relevant today as it was in the 1960s.

Unputdownable Top 10 Films & TV Shows - Le Diner de Cons

6.  LE DÎNER DE CONS (1998)

This is based on a play with the same name – literally, Dinner of Fools. A group of fashionable and annoyingly arrogant Parisian businessmen get together for dinner every week, but each guest has to bring along a ‘dullard’ who the other guests can make fun of. You can guess what happens… the snooty businessmen get their comeuppance as cruelty, humour and revenge join hands for a moving finale.

This is a film that could only have been made in France and there is something about French humour that I absolutely adore. It makes me roar with laughter every time I watch it.

Call my Agent

7. CALL MY AGENT (2015-ongoing)

Let’s continue the French theme. There was a British version of this released last year (and now a Bollywood version by Banijay), but the French version was the original and remains by far the best. So successful in fact that, by series two, you had all the French A-listers screaming for a cameo: Christophe Lambert, Isabelle Adjani, Juliette Binoche, Jean Reno.

If you go back a few decades, film stars used to turn their noses up at TV. It was very much the poor relation. These days, we’re getting stuff on the small screen that’s better than what you can see at the cinema.  As a storyteller, the length of TV series, 8-10 hours per series, and multiple series, allows a completely different freedom, and present a totally different challenge to a 2 hour film.  I have been told many times over the years that my books are too long for Film. I hope that some of them will find a way onto TV in this new golden age.

Unputdownable Top 10 Films & TV Shows - Succession

8.  SUCCESSION (2018-2023)

 Contained some painful moments that were excruciatingly difficult to watch (as there is no one to root for) but, at the same time, it managed to be such fun!  A Great all-round cast, again – who would be brave enough to argue with Brian Cox’s Logan Roy? – but it was Kendall who really had the greatest impact.

You could argue that there is an exaggerated quality to a lot of what happens in the show, but I have moved in these circles, sitting around the dinner table with billionaires and their ‘people’.  I have met one or two of these deeply unhealthy individuals in real life. Their only concern is usually themselves, and making money, money, money. And damn the consequences.

The Lives of Others


As the credits rolled, I had to stand and applaud. And I wasn’t the only one.

How often does that happen in the cinema?

The main character is a jobsworth Stasi agent in 1980s East Germany who begins to wonder if he’s doing the right thing. The actor who played him, Ulrich Mühe, is stunning, but his success was overtaken by tragedy. He’d been acting in Germany for nearly 30 years when The Lives of Others finally made him an international star and within 12 months, he died from stomach cancer. He was only 54.

Unputdownable Top 10 Films & TV Shows - House of Cards

10. HOUSE OF CARDS (British version; 1990)

A frighteningly beautiful performance by Ian Richardson as Francis Urquhart.

And having worked with half a dozen Chief Whips in my time, I can tell you that he got it spot on. So much of that authenticity came from the writer, Michael Dobbs, who was part of that political world and would have been familiar with all the Chief Whips of the time. More to the point, he knew what made them tick.  I never asked Michael this, but I always wondered if he based Urquhart on Willie Whitelaw.  From outside Parliament, Whitelaw may have come across as a cuddly bear, but he was not the kind of cuddly bear you wanted to get on the wrong side of!

For more articles, please visit the Unputdownable Article page, or the Unputdownable Podcast.

Or please read or listen to Chapter 1 of Traitors Gate for free.