Filmed in the U.K. by Producers Films Ltd. for Channel 4. Producers, Jenny Edwards, Jeanna Polley, Neal Weisman; director, Graham Theakston; writer, Paula Milne; camera, Tom McDougal; editor, Alan Jones; sound, Nigel Galt, Paul Conway; production design, Adrian Smith; costumes, Pam Tait; music, Barrington Phelong; series executive producer, Rebecca Eaton; Channel 4 commissioning editor, Peter Ansorge. TX:Cast: Juliet Stevenson, Trevor Eve, Anton Lesser, Ian Bannen, Frederick Treves, Minnie Driver, Stuart Piper, Katie Donnison, Diana Fairfax, Patrick Drury,Stephen Boxer, Charmian May, Penny Bunton, Andrew Hilton, Michael Harbour, Lisa Jacobs, Jacqueline Tong, Richard Brierley, Mark Sinclair, Sally Knyvette, Sue Edelson, Claire Vousden, Jackie Everett, Shirley Anne Selby, Joe Hutton, David Auker, James Woolley, Sarah Wynter, Lloyd McGuire, Edward Highmore. If Shakespeare were alive today, he’d probably be a political reporter , or even a speech writer. Government is where the real theater exists, particularly in England, where personal crises seem to have a way of intersecting with national affairs with eerie regularity, all of it played out brutally in public. That mixture is the driving force behind “Masterpiece Theatre’s” newest miniseries, “The Politician’s Wife,” a largely compelling modern morality tale that nonetheless could have used the Bard’s subtle touch. Not the least of the show’s notable features is the key decision not to make the heroine entirely heroic. Befitting a story set in the higher reaches of national politics, virtually no one escapes this tale unsullied. Even if the intricacies of British politics sound like something akin to outtakes from CSPAN-2, Milne’s ability to capture the various forms of corruption make for tantalizing entertainment.
The story concerns dutiful Flora Matlock (the always luminous Juliet Stevenson) as she copes with the public revelation that her prime minister-track husband Duncan (Trevor Eve) has had an affair with escort girl Jennifer Caird (Minnie Driver). While Flora’s impulse is to grieve and throw the bum out, the full weight of the Conservative Party establishment mobilizes to keep her in line.
She’s reminded of her duty and urged to put on a brave face, even by her power-broker father, who can offer nothing more comforting than “Maybe there’ll be another royal toe-sucking episode that will eclipse us.”
Flora’s task isn’t made easier by the unfolding revelations that — despite Duncan’s insistence his affair with Jennifer was a one-time indiscretion — he in fact had an intense, yearlong relationship with her.
Stevenson beautifully plays this decent, honorable woman who must swallow her humiliation even as she resolves to regain her honor, in not altogether honorable ways.
Her shame forms the core of the first of two 90-minute episodes. In addition to fine acting by Stevenson and Eve (as the oily but surprisingly resilient Duncan), Part 1 is full of knowing detail and coloring. There are casual mentions of the revered-yet-resented former prime minister “Margaret,” and insights into the politely poisonous world of British politics.
The second part, when Flora decides to exact her revenge, is more troublesome. Slowly, methodically, this seemingly good wife starts to employ the deceitful tricks that are a normal part of business for her ambitious husband and his various cronies. Aided by a secretly duplicitous aide to her husband (Anton Lesser), Flora starts to drag him down, even as she boosts her own standing. The final result is telegraphed long before the mini ends.
Somehow, this relentless vendetta sidetracks the narrative. Even if it was admirable to make Flora a complex heroine, by the time the show is over, audiences may start to lose sympathy for her.
Still, this does nothing to obscure a number of excellent performances. Stevenson and Eve are especially effective playing off each other, and Ian Bannen turns in a strong effort as the upper-class party insider.
Director Graham Theakston does a good job of capturing the small details, both of the power-elite setting and of the personal turmoil going on in his heroine. Other tech credits are first-rate.