The Commons men

The Conservative party is convulsed by a sex scandal while a leadership crisis overshadows Labour’s election campaign so no change there. Eddie Gibb reports on two very different political dramas for television.

A week is a long time in politics. which generally renders any attempt to inject contemporary references into political television drama hopelessly out of date.

However. Paula Milne‘s story of an adulterous Tory government minister's fall was almost guaranteed a

And sure enough. since it was filmed at least one Tory MP has found the details of his sex-life splashed across several pages of the News of the World. For The Politician 's Wife Milne draws mainly on David Mellor's well-publicised affair with a

‘Obviously Kinnock’s dilemma is what moved me and provided the emotional spring for the play.’ David Hare on The Absence of War

‘resting' actress. though similarities to Hartley Booth’s chaste relationship with a Commons researcher will also be detectable to avid scandal- watchers.

The starting point for this three-part drama is Minister for the Family Duncan Matlock (Trevor Eve) uttering the'age-old line of public school boys who get caught: ‘l’ve been an utter bloody fool.‘ It's not a poorly-drafted piece of child benefit legislation that is threatening his ministerial career but. quel surprise, an extra-marital affair with a Tory party groupie. Handed a cast-iron defence of public interest to expose a politician’s private life, the tabloid mob has pitched camp outside the Matlocks’ country home. The PM. has already phoned to say that he doesn't regard this as a resigning issue yet. The question is. will his wife stand by her man?

For years, the dutiful wife played with the cut- crystal manners of a Tory lady by Juliet Stevenson has supplied the political backbone during her husband's climb up the greasy pole. Now she's being asked to make the ultimate sacrifice agreeing to a family photocall to prop up the Minister's fallen public image. Behind the scenes Tory party grandees are working to shore up his reputation with party's rank and file.

Like the recent Screen Two film A Very Open

sex scandal breaking around the time of transmission.

i l l


Prison, which sought to satirise Home Secretary Michael Howard's attempts to bring market forces to bear on the prison service. A Politician 's Wife is accurate in the details, but strangely hollow. A Family Minister has been invented to emphasise the moral gap between Tory politicians' public pronouncements and private lifestyles. but the story is just too close to actual cVents to achieve a deeper resonance.

Perhaps it would be impossible to add any extra drama to the spectacle of the present Government‘s turmoil. Jonathan Aitken’s bizarre soliloquy about the ‘sword of truth' demonstrated his party has already cornered the market in Shakespearian script writers.

By contrast. another from the Screen Two series. An Absence of War, offers an absolutely compelling X study ofthe effect of power or, in this case. the lack of it. Leading socialist playwright David Hare has i adapted his own stage play for television, with John Thaw returning to the role of the charismatic (read Kinnock-like) Labour leader George Jones he first played two years ago at the Royal National Theatre.

Hare wrote the play. the third in a trilogy about British institutions of church, state and law. after the i Labour party gave him unprecedented access to its ' preparation for the 1992 election. it was assumed. given Hare's left leanings. that the result would be pro-Labour. Instead. Hare wrote a classical tragedy which portrayed the Jones/Kinnock character as a man who had modernised the party to the brink of victory but was. ironically, the obstacle to its final triumph. A series of virtuoso displays of rhetoric at the dispatch box have undermined the Government to the point where it calls an early general election, but ultimately the electorate can’t trust itself to vote for Labour.

The ficticious shadow chancellor is played as a cold

ble intellect who quietly undermines the passionate. but policy-free. leader ofthe opposition. It's difficult not to see this as a parable of Kinnock's last days. strait—

jacketed by party spin-doctors attempting to out-Tory

the Tories. while a calculating John Smith figure waits in the wings.

Like The Politician is Wife, this is a work of fiction that draws heavily on real events. ‘()bviously Kinnock's dilemma is what moved rue and provided the emotional spring for the play.‘ said l-lare when the play opened at the National. But Labour supporters who saw The Absence of War as simply

Jonathan Aitken’s bizarre soliloquy about the ‘sword of truth’ demonstrated his party has already cornered the market in Shakesperian script writers.

about the succession from Kinnock to Smith after the 1992 election missed the point.

By using the conflict within the Labour party between traditionalists and rnodemisers as the main dramatic device. Hare hit to the very heart ofthe Labour party. Rather than a betrayal of Walworth Road‘s trust. Hare has dramatist an essential truth about the nature of leadership which should inspire the Labour party's preparation for the next election. The party is shown as something that people care about

By comparison. The Politician 's Wife is classy and entertaining television. but it's doubtful if it will tell the Conservative politicians. or their voters. anything they don't already know. Perhaps the emotional emptiness is, after all, an appropriate metaphor for a ruling dynasty whose powers are fading fast.

The Absence of War is on Sunday 14 May on BBC2: The Politician 's Wife begins on Tuesday 16 May on Channel 4.

so The List 5-18 May 1993