Sex, lies and Parliament: What happens when the woman is on top in a power couple?

The stars and writer of a new BBC drama 'The Politician's Husband' tell Gerard Gilbert.

Since we've recently been dragging up the political past – who recalls Prime Minister John Major's "Back to Basics" campaign?

In classic style, the family-values crusade came unstuck when a succession of Conservative MPs were exposed as adulterers, and this was the starting point for Paula Milne's Bafta-winning 1995 BBC drama series The Politician's Wife. Juliet Stevenson was heart-wrenchingly brilliant as the no-longer-so-dutiful MP's spouse, Flora, while Trevor Eve played the sleazy husband.

After an 18-year gap, Milne has returned with a sort of sequel, The Politician's Husband, only now it features a parliamentary power couple, Aiden and Freya Hoynes, played by David Tennant and Emily Watson. Both characters are MPs this time, Aiden the cabinet high-flyer on the cusp of heading a leadership coup when we first meet him, and it's another rich Paula Milne stew of power, sex, betrayal and revenge. But what took her so long to return to the subject of arguably her greatest hit?

"Immediately after The Politician's Wife people wanted me to do a follow-up", she says. "But I had a very strong instinct to leave well alone. You don't screw up what was good and turn it into a piece of merchandising. But if the narrative engine of The Politician's Wife was to look at politics through the prism of a marriage, then it seemed to me that it could be done again."

No political party is specified this time, Milne wanting to suggest that the machinations shown in The Politicians Husband are not specific to any one side. Also, the drama is about the governing party, "and then it would become about Coalition politics", she says, "and I wanted to get at something else really, which is people's disenchantment with politicians."

But hasn't that disenchantment already found acutely hilarious expression in Armando Iannucci's The Thick of it? "The Thick of It was great because it made disenchantment feel OK, instead of people just feeling pissed off and angry", says Milne. "Obviously a straight drama has a different role and that's why you need this emotional engine to get into it. You need to see a marriage and a family.

"That's the heart of it… the power within a marriage passing from a man to the woman", she says. "I mean, I've been married and divorced twice and what part my success played… it was there… it was part of it… being the more successful. It is very difficult to run a home when two people are in highly demanding jobs. Usually somebody has to give."

Emily Watson would agree. The 46-year-old actress, who won a Bafta last year for her part in ITV's Fred West drama Appropriate Adult, gives another unostentatiously powerful performance as Freya – used to playing second fiddle to her husband's career, but suddenly seeing a way to fulfil her own political ambitions.

Watson has described herself before as the "breadwinner" in her marriage to fellow actor (turned writer) Jack Waters, and recently her husband has been looking after their children Juliet, seven, and four-year-old Dylan, while Watson has been in Berlin to film an adaptation of Markus Zusak's novel The Book Thief. "I'm commuting home as often as I can", she says, "and so Jack's obviously holding the fort, but the boot will be on the other foot once I've done. It's a very fluid thing in our industry."

The most high-profile political power couple at the moment are Labour's Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper – respectively Shadow Chancellor and Home Secretary – although Watson says she was careful not to base Freya on anyone in particular. "There's an archetype there of the man who would be king and his very powerful wife, and you can put that scenario in any time in history and any political set-up. The personal politics between the two of them is very interesting – they have a sexually edgy relationship."

Indeed, as with the earlier The Politician's Wife, Milne uses the couple's sex life to illustrate the shifting power balance within their relationship – Freya rolling on top of Aiden in the first episode, while, in the second episode there is a shocking role reversal. "Obviously doing all the bed stuff was… you know, 'come on Emily, you're too old for this game now, come on…'," laughs Watson. "On this, because it was so germane to the whole thing, it wasn't just one… it was three days of it. We kind of got the giggles really, like 'what are we doing?' ". She then imitates being quizzed by her children. "'What did you today, Mummy?'; 'Oh, met Doctor Who…'"

Watson says she enjoyed Freya's sharp suits ("female politicians still dress like men"), while Tennant focused on his character's hair. "Looking at political faces on the news, I was struck by how coiffed they are", he says. "They often seem to go for a sort of Eighties soap-star kind of look.

"Filming the drama certainly gave me an insight into why politics appeals to people – particularly that sense of the intoxicating effect of power. It's sort of Shakespearean in that way. It's like a history play in the making."

Tennant says he was unwilling to tap what he calls his "social links" with friendly politicians for research purposes, although he did re-watch Milne's 1995 series. "Paula really caught that moment in time when the ruling classes began to realise that they weren't able to get away with whatever the hell they liked any more."

Has Milne again struck lucky with her timing, what with David Cameron coming under potential leadership pressure from the likes of Boris Johnson and Theresa May, while Margaret Thatcher's death has refreshed memories about her political assassination?

"It's hugely about the zeitgeist and it's really good that the BBC are putting it out fast", she says. "That's what Michael Grade said when he got the scripts for The Politician's Wife. 'Make it and put it out fast'. It's such shifting sands politics, you have to put it out before something devastating happens."

'The Politician's Husband' begins tonight at 9pm on BBC2

Arts and Entertainment
Larry David and Rosie Perez in ‘Fish in the Dark’
theatreReview: Had Fish in the Dark been penned by a civilian it would have barely got a reading, let alone £10m advance sales
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable