20 MAY 1995, Page 53


Putting on a brave face

Ian Hislop

Iwonder if David Mellor is watching The Politician's Wife (Channel Four, Tues- day 10 p.m.)? It is the story of a Conserva- tive minister who gets caught having an affair with a bimbo and then decides to brazen it out with the support of his wife. A lot of the elements of the story will be familiar to Mellor especially the terrible photocall with the wife and children smil- ing bravely in front of the massed paparazzi. There are details from subse- quent Tory scandals worked in to the drama but the starting point for Duncan Matlock is clearly David Mellor.

Having got the script the producers must have wondered who on earth they could cast as Duncan who would be suffi- ciently ghastly. Mellor himself is now in showbusiness of course but he was proba- bly too busy with all his columns and radio shows to take on the part. The only other solution was Trevor Eve. Eve has played a number of roles on television ranging form Complete Shit to Utter Bastard and it has to be said he is very good at them. His advantage for television over say, Mellor, is that people love to hate him. As opposed to just hating him.

Who else could play a man who tells his wife that when he slept with the researcher 'it was always your face I saw'? Or who only a day after the revela- tions asks her whether she is 'still hurt- ing'? Or who was then too busy to answer her phonecalls even though she had saved his political life? Eve somehow makes all of this both credible and grip- ping. Whether shouting orders from his bath or talking dirty on the telephone you have to go on watching in the des- perate hope that something really pleas- ant will happen to him. The casting of the wife is even better. Juliet Stevenson as Flora Matlock (the name presumably an echo of the Parkinson scandal) perfectly registers the pain and humiliation of the woman caught in the glare of her husband's disgrace. When she listens to a tape of her husband's phonecalls to his mistress, she does so on her son's walkman. And her silent reaction says it all. Quite whether we need to hear the graphic detail on the tape is arguable but since this is Channel Four and the pro- gramme goes out after ten o'clock there is a great deal of explicit stuff about split- crotch panties and other items unsuitable for mention in a family political weekly like The Spectator.

However Paula Mihie's script does go a long way towards answering the question of why these women do support their errant husbands. When the scandal breaks, Flora is not only besieged by loathsome journal- ists outside her home, she is also besieged inside it by loathsome party advisers and consultants. The sheer pressure these men put on her toYdo the right thing' in cir- cumstances where she has had no time to consider the alternatives is extraordinary. The appeal to party loyalty is backed up by the immediate thought of losing the whole of her way of life if her husband is dis- graced. Add in concern about the children and the minor matter of her own feelings towards the philandering Duncan and it is no surprise that Flora emerges from the house dazed enough to stand by her man in front of the cameras. She even follows the creepy spin-doctor's advice to keep touch- ing him so that there is no physical evi- dence of disharmony.

At the end of the first episode Duncan has got away with it. I was not convinced by his 'bravery and honesty' as Minister of the Family in admitting that he had made 'an error of judgement'. I would probably not have given him a standing ovation at a con- ference of the Family Policy Forum. But then again I am not a Tory activist condi- tioned to applaud any old humbug provid- ed it ends with the words 'this great country of ours'. One cannot really criticise drama for mirroring real life and both the local and the national party duly forgave Duncan. The Prime Minister then decided that the affair was 'not a resigning issue'.

But, as David Mellor will no doubt remember, this is not necessarily the end of the story. Watch Part Two.