Acorn Media // 1994 // 195 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // May 23rd, 2013
He's had a mistress.
She's had enough.
Apparently, during the nineties, the ruling Conservative party in England had quite a few of those lurid sex scandals that we do so love to see. At some point, the endless succession of wives dutifully lining up in support of their fallen husband led writer Paula Milne to wonder what might happen if a wife didn't stand by her man. The result was The Politician's Wife, a somewhat tawdry affair that while engaging at times, primarily due to some strong performances, doesn't quite work in today's jaded age.
Flora Matlock (Juliet Stevenson, The Hour) has her world crumble around her when she discovers that her husband, British MP Duncan Matlock (Trevor Eve, Troy), has had an affair with a former call girl (Minnie Driver, An Ideal Husband). On her father's advice, she dutifully stands by her man, but as more sordid details emerge, that becomes increasingly difficult. The last straw for Flora comes when she learns not only that it had been an extended affair, not only that most of her husband's party knew about it, but that her own father knew about it all along.
Flora may continue to play the Good Wife on the surface, but now she's playing her own game, working to undermine her husband's façade of integrity and decency to reveal his true face to all the world.
The Politician's Wife was a hit when it originally, aired, even picking up a BAFTA or two. I'm not sure it holds up well, though. To an extent, it was a product of its time -- in 1995, the Conservative party, while still in power, was clearly on the wane, with PM John Major having to fight off members of his own party to remain in office. Conservatives were an easy target. Thus Duncan is about as despicable a political animal as you will find outside confines of Boss. Frankly, by the end of the first episode, no one would have blinked if Flora had simply killed the bastard outright. That's part of the problem -- the conservatives in general, and Trevor in particular, are presented as such fetid pond scum that they have no redeeming characteristics whatsoever. Flora is the only character with any sort of depth.
Then, of course, there's the sex. We get pretty steamy by 1995 standards, with some kinky stuff, and then there are the tapes that Flora listens to, tapes of Trevor and his mistress, tapes that are about one step removed from letters to Penthouse. Now, using such tapes as a means to prompt Flora into action is fine. However, we get tapes (notice the plural) in each episode, even when there really is no dramatic need for them, other than to titillate the audience.
The video is pretty good, given that this series was shot close to twenty years ago. There's some grain, but it's never obtrusive; there are occasional instances of aliasing and artefacting, colors are not blurred, but are a tad on the muted side. That evaluation has a major caveat, though: While the video is in 1.78:1, the movie was originally shot in 1.33:1. It has been cropped to widescreen, leading to an appalling rash of partial decapitations; director Graham Theakston denounced the new framing. It's hard to blame him, since the bad cropping makes you wonder if he was hammered during the entire shoot. The only extra is a short essay by writer Paula Milne, briefly recounting where she got the idea for the series.
By a stunning coincidence, the re-release of this disc coincides with the premiere on BBC2 of The Politician's Husband, starring Emily Mortimer and David Tennant.
Juliet Stevenson is simply wonderful, rising above the material. Towards the end of the first episode, Flora, frustrated, humiliated, searches Duncan's study for more evidence of his perfidy. Unable to open any of the various locked drawers, she gets to Duncan's humidor. Slowly, she removes a cheroot and lights up, symbolically beginning the process of claiming his power for her own. It's not exactly a subtle image, but it does lead to some interesting questions. As she schemes, lies, and otherwise plots her husband's downfall, you have to wonder the degree to which Flora is herself being corrupted, and it's in that sense of progression that you can fully appreciate Juliet Stevenson's performance. All the other principal characters are downright awful, but here is someone who begins the series with some sense of a moral compass. However, that compass may be leading her astray; in fact, a good case can be made that her machinations to bring down her husband are a major factor in her father's death (a major plot failing is that this issue is never addressed). At the end, there's a wonderful close-up on her, and you can see that she's starting ask herself: Will I become that which I set out to destroy?
It's a somewhat guilty pleasure, I suppose, but despite Stevenson's work, The Politician's Wife just doesn't quite maintain our attention.
I can't help but think this would have been so much more entertaining if the wife in question had been Hillary Clinton.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Acorn Media
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 195 Minutes
Release Year: 1994
MPAA Rating: Not Rated