Meet the British Frank and Claire Underwood

Meet the British Frank and Claire Underwood
SourceBBC Two

Why you should care

Because politicking on this level seems to be a growing global phenomenon — and this is a look from the inside.

Pure-white Latin words cut through an otherwise black screen: Corruptio optimi pessima (“Corruption of the best is worst of all”). A camera pans across a city long steeped in politics as eerie music plays in the background. And then the real intrigue begins — between a husband and wife, “the golden couple of politics,” in which their marriage unfolds with the kind of plotting and backstabbing that begs for a multi-hour binge.

Just another season of House of CardsFrank and Claire Underwood at their best? Bollocks. These sly lovers are the British Underwoods.

Though launched just months after House of Cards premiered on Netflix three years ago, The Politician’s Husband consists of only three episodes that originally ran as a TV miniseries on BBC Two. It features actor David Tennant (of Doctor Who and Jessica Jones fame) as Aiden Hoynes, a high-flying British cabinet minister who resigns under the pretenses of craving family time but who’s really just jockeying to take over as prime minister. If you’re the type who loves to hate President Underwood, then you’re going to love to loathe Hoynes’ brooding and manipulation.

Of course, for every fiery cat in politics, there’s usually a clever mouse — and in this case it’s Hoynes’ wife, Freya Gardner, perfectly played by two-time Academy Award nominee Emily Watson. As a junior education minister and a rising parliamentarian star in her own right, Gardner grows ever more powerful in a way that has you rooting for her while wondering just how much she might adopt her husband’s political-trickery playbook.

It’s precisely that plot of will she or won’t she cross certain moral lines that draws me to government-centric and D.C.-based shows like this one, including House of Cards, Homeland and The Americans. John McLaughlin, the former deputy director of the CIA, sees a shared theme between House of Cards and The Politician’s Husband — namely, a theme of power as the ultimate aphrodisiac, as famously coined by Henry Kissinger. “There really is something to the old bromide that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” says McLaughlin, who’s a political-TV junkie. “I think it’s happened to Putin, Erdogan, Xi and certainly to Gaddafi, Stalin and others before them. But it makes for great TV!”

As someone who lives in a country where the queen’s mug still graces our currency (yep, I’m a Canuck), I’ve found aspects of this show relatively more believable than the Underwoods’ escapades in the White House. Maybe it’s my familiarity with Canada’s parliamentary system of government, or how, in a strange way — like, say, if my alter ego were an evil, gangly white cabinet minister [Editor’s note: Who says it isn’t?] — I could see myself trying to connive my way through government ranks in similar flailing fashion. Case in point: that scene where Hoynes pontificates on exactly how his wife could navigate upward, all while he’s wearing pajamas and slipping a shoe onto an increasingly powerful foot that’s doing a much better job than he at perfecting the Westminster Waltz.

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