The Politician's Husband, BBC Two, review
Jake Wallis Simons reviews episode two of The Politician's Husband, the BBC Two adaptation of Paula Milne's companion piece to her 1995 drama The Politician's Wife.
We were treated to a more sophisticated exploration of moral paucity in the second part of The Politician’s Husband (BBC Two). This was an episode in which every single line was defined by the shocking scene at the beginning, in which David Tennant’s character, the emasculated former minister Aiden Hoynes, raped his wife, Freya Gardner (Emily Watson). The marriage was held together by political ambition, and – appallingly – the violation became old news, then forgiven. But Hoynes had only just got going.
Paula Milne’s writing was exemplary. After the rape, for example, the camera did not linger on the victim, as one might have expected, but the perpetrator. Hoynes sat on the stairs, put his head in his hands and wept. The next morning, his wife reacted by deciding to commit to her ministerial career whatever the cost: “I am done with waiting in the wings.” The stage was set for a monumental and clandestine struggle between husband and wife, all convincingly, subtly, and unflinchingly portrayed.
The strength of the script, and of the acting, was that it was somehow easy to both hate these characters and root for them. Hoynes, continually brooding and scheming, was a man at the end of his wits, a victim of his own megalomania. His wife had been playing second fiddle for years, and was intoxicated with her first taste of power. They were fiendishly unpleasant, yet somehow sympathetic; you wanted them to either triumph or be destroyed. At times, the episode came close to revenge tragedy, and it would not be surprising if the final episode leaves a stage littered with bodies.
It may be true that real-life politicians tend to be too incompetent to achieve the Machiavellian heights of The Politician’s Husband. It may also be true that the scenes in Parliament were less than convincing, and the replica TV reports and interviews were cardboardy. But to focus on this would be to miss the point. The Politician’s Husband is a potent metaphor for gender politics in modern Britain; the political setting is secondary, and lends an extra charge.
Preview of Episode 3