Sunday, March 23, 2008

What, is there only one Borg Mind?

Oh for *&^% Dennis Hartly over at Digby wrote the post I've been too sick to write for a few days--about the BBC series The Politician's Wife:

My personal favorite of the genre is an outstanding and overlooked drama from 1995 that was originally presented as a three-part miniseries in the UK, The Politician’s Wife. Juliet Stevenson delivers a tour-de-force performance as Flora, the staunchly supportive wife of Duncan Matlock, an ambitious rising star in England’s conservative Tory party.

My mother recommended it last week and I watched it a few days ago. It is truly a tour de force--Mamet for women in the sense that every word counts and the writing is spare and cut to the bone. But more important is the "for women" part. The plot is basically that a Silda Wall type character discovers that her husband has been carrying on a year long torrid affair with a female staffer. The right wing party daddies close ranks about him--even the heroine's own father demonstrates that loyalty to party and to his own dreams of power and a knighthood are more important than she is. Worse than that, they rush about making sure she "puts her best foot forward" and "doesn't let the side down" and not only make her stand by him but instruct her that she must "touch him frequently" and "seem at ease" and also go and stand in for him at every ladies lunch and "christian women's affair" that is on offer. Meanwhile, she is to continue serving as his unpaid secretary and keep up her real function which is serving as a buffer between him and his actual constituents who are quite poor and needy. We see endless scenes of the men discussing how best to use her, and how useable she is, over their whiskey or their port. But slowly she figures out that this was no one time fling and with the aid of his gay administrative assistant she and the "left handers" (who are everywhere) take their revenge.

What's really interesting is something that I think Hartley doesn't quite notice. Flora decides to do her husband's career in by slow cuts. She uses the fact that she has become an important cog in the men's plans as a way of gaining liscence to call them up and manipulate *them.* They are so afraid that she will stop being their patsy that they rush to deal with her whenever she calls and keep offering her more and more little girl treats if she plays along. She plays the weak, proud, hopeful woman of their imaginations to a T and slips the knife in at every stage. They can't see what she is doing because they simply can't grasp that a woman like Flora can have interests of her own, intentions that are separate from theirs, and a hidden meaning to her words. Time after time she bursts into tears on the senior ministers and says sadly how she is coming to understand she must put party over personal feelings (just what they said to her) and so...would they mind if she told them something her husband told her, in confidence? which is that he never liked minister X, or he knows that minister Y is sleeping around? Pretty soon the senior politicians think they are using Flora to get rid of her husband politically, when it is she is is using them. She secretely blocks their political plans for the privatization of child benefit and women's education. She secretely exposes the machinations of the top politicians to end the welfare state. She chips away at her husband's status as a rising star by dropping hints about how selfish and ruthless he is so that the more charming and in control he seems the more suspicious his former friends become. There's a fantastic scene where Flora manipulates the christian women's conservative association, playign them like violins and speaking movingly of women's role in politics and dropping, apparently accidentally, that her husband despises them as "ladies who lunch" in "fancy hats" and even "menopausal old biddies." And a yet more amazing one where she tries the same thing on some working class "child minders" with business before the council. She tries to cry her way into their sympathy as a scorned wife but they remain sturdily unimpressed and ask her right out what's in it for them. They'll help her, they say, but only if it pays off and only if she's up front about what she wants. They are the only people in the entire film, other than the gay admin staffer, who grasp that women are people with aims and objectives of their own, not the shadow tools of the men around them.

My favorite scene in the entire movie, other than the scene where the child minders give Flora some good brutal honesty, is a hilarious feminine rip off of the scene in the God Father where Michael goes to the baptism of his nephew while his assassins go to work on his enemies. In The Politician's Wife the cuts go between Flora making a cake in her country kitchen to the unfolding of the doom of her husband as one by one his friends fall away from him and refuse to take his calls and the press begins to bay for his political death.