Sunday, July 27, 2014

Streaming treat: Do blondes have more fun? David Tennant & Emily Watson in Paula Milne's THE POLITICIAN'S HUSBAND

Note: The following post is written by
our sometimes correspondent, Lee Liberman.

Here scriptwriter Paula Milne (with the help of director, Simon Cellan Jones, shown at left) offers an updated version of her 1996 revenge-plot mini-series, The Politician's Wife, in which the wife undoes her husband's career to punish him for his long affair with an escort. In the new series, THE POLITICAN'S HUSBAND, Milne modernizes spouse, Freya, (Emily Watson), who has not only emancipated herself from the loyal rear guard but is actually better than her husband's professional equal.

Milne's mini-series duo reflects the author's intrigue with betrayal and revenge. The series launches with the Latin phrase: Corruptio optimi pessima -- 'corruption of the best is the worst of all'. The entire drama is devoted to intrigue that shocks and corrupts, leading to revenge, while allowing for a mere shard of hope that true love can survive betrayal.

The focus is on Aiden (David Tennant) -- a power-wound cabinet minister who aims to lead the Labour Party (he's also a righteous democrat lobbying for liberal immigration reform) about to be betrayed by his oldest and dearest friend, fellow cabinet minister, Bruce, (the handsome Ed Stoppard, above, right, son of playwright Tom). Bruce covets the prime minister post and willingly ruins his closest friend whose picture-perfect life he envies. Bruce then organizes the promotion of Freya (above, left) from back bench to cabinet minister and attempts to win her away from Aiden.

The politicking is set against the busy complex family life of the married MP's, Freya and Aiden, dubbed the golden couple of the liberal political establishment. They have two young children including one with Aspergers syndrome whose difficulties pain Aiden particularly. Also there's grandfather (Jack Shepherd), a retired academic who pitches in with the kids and serves as Aiden's compass about what really matters. We see Freya and Aiden communicate, problem-solve, jointly share household duties, and seek comfort in each other sexually. They are a more cohesive team than any I can think of off-hand on film and the depth of their relationship makes you root for it. However, once Aiden and Freya have traded places between back bench and cabinet, things begin to shift (in and out of bed).

While Freya has always supported his climb and assumed the larger burden of family, their new roles challenge Aiden's obsessive need to be in control. (He punctures her diaphragm, wishing for a pregnancy to put things back the way they were.) And Freya, who had vicariously enjoyed Aiden's successes as though they were her own, comes to wield her own political power as though born to it, and she repels her husband's self-interested meddling. Aiden reaches a boil when he thinks Freya has cheated on him with Bruce; he stages a devastating coup of his own. When Freya realizes how willingly he had put her career in jeopardy, she and we begin to doubt the marriage can survive. The way they do move forward together provides a chill, our wondering exactly how hollowed out their relationship has become. The situation is not totally devoid of hope given Freya's emotional intelligence, deftly, quietly conveyed by Ms Watson.

As Aiden, Tennant is coiffed a carefully clipped blond, adding a look of serpentine stealth and menace to his parliamentary stagecraft and to the turn-around of his dead- ended career (at Bruce's expense). Both Freya and Aiden are unusually compelling characters for their mix of sympathetic and predatory traits -- are we all bad when driven to it? Tennant, described in media as a British golden boy, recently starred in Masterpiece Mystery's The Escape Artist and has a long roster of film and TV credits (as well as having lit the torch at the British Olympics).

Watch this one streaming on Netflix for an amped-up ride through high stakes politics and intimate family drama -- and note who is on top.

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