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Politician's Wife, The (1995)

Courtesy of Channel 4 Television

Main image of Politician's Wife, The (1995)
Channel 4, tx. 16 - 30/5/1995
3 x 75 min episodes, colour
DirectorGraham Theakston
Production CompanyProducers Films
ProducersJenny Edwards
 Jeanna Polley
 Neal Weisman
Written byPaula Milne
PhotographyTom McDougal
MusicBarrington Pheloung

Cast: Juliet Stevenson (Flora Matlock); Trevor Eve (Duncan Matlock); Ian Bannen (Sir Donald Frazier); Anton Lesser (Mark Hollister); Frederick Treves (Clive); Minnie Driver (Jennifer Caird)

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The wife of a government minister ruthlessly plots his downfall when evidence of his adultery is exposed in the media.

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The Politician's Wife is a complex drama that works on several levels. The premise, the fallout from media revelations of a government minister's adulterous affair, was very topical at the time. A number of high-ranking politicians were embroiled in sexual scandals in the wake of Prime Minister John Major's ill-advised 'Back to Basics' morality campaign, and in 1994, the year before the programme's broadcast, several had been forced to resign.

Paula Milne's script looks behind the headlines and stage-managed photo opportunities to examine what this might mean for an MP's family. Juliet Stevenson plays Flora, the minister's wife who belatedly comes to challenge the patriarchal culture that has dominated her entire life as embodied by her domineering husband, her old-fashioned father, and the Tory party they all serve.

Having begun with familiar scenes of post-scandal personal and political discord, the drama shifts its focus to Flora's revenge on her unfaithful husband Duncan. To make the lengths of her deceit palatable, he is written as an arrogant, complacent, chauvinist ogre who likes rough sex and is planning to privatise child benefit. In other words, he encapsulates just about every possible cliché about conservative politicians. It's a thankless, unfortunately one-dimensional role played with considerable charm by Trevor Eve, then best known for portraying philanderers in such productions as Parnell and the Englishwoman (BBC, 1991) and A Sense of Guilt (BBC, 1990).

The latter parts of the serial are thus less naturalistic and more melodramatic, but add a further dimension to the story by playing like an inverted variation on 'Othello' and its themes of sexual jealousy and revenge: Mark is Duncan's main aide and seemingly his most trusted ally, but he is gay and repulsed by his boss's homophobia. And so he instigates a plan to involve Flora to bring about her husband's downfall, waspishly quoting the maxim by Karl Marx's contemporary Bakunin: "The urge to destroy is also a creative urge". As the machinations of their elaborate scheme come centre-stage, the story comes to resemble the more overtly satirical House of Cards (BBC, 1990) minus the laughs.

Milne's conclusion is equivocal in assessing the success of Flora's journey out of male dominance; her plan to destroy Duncan succeeds, but it also results in the death of her kindly father, and ironically also leads her to become a Tory MP, having proved her mettle to the party grandees by her cynical single-mindedness.

Sergio Angelini

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Video Clips
1. Fatherly advice (4:38)
2. Real power (4:06)
3. The urge to destroy (3:10)
Complete first episode - Part 1 (26:54)
Part 2 (9:47)
Part 3 (26:37)
House of Cards (1990)
Bannen, Ian (1928-1999)
Milne, Paula (1947-)
Stevenson, Juliet (1956-)
Channel 4 Drama
Channel 4 at 25