UK TV review: Hillary
Ivan Radford | On 02, Jul 2020Reading time: 3 mins
What does Hillary Clinton want people to take away from Hillary, the new Hulu documentary that premiered on Sky Documentaries in the UK? That she’s “neither as good nor as bad as people say”, she admits in the opening episode. And, over four hours, that’s precisely what happens: we see the good and the bad of the former First Lady, getting an insight into the ups and downs of her political career.
There have certainly been many of those, as evidenced by how polarising a figure Hillary has become. She is, on the one hand, a trailblazing politician and a feminist icon – and, on the other hand, was happy to maintain the system and status quo, perhaps too much so when she stood by Bill Clinton during, well, all of that kerfuffle. It’s telling how politely the series navigates though the Monica Lewinsky and impeachment scandal, with Hillary and Bill only commenting on them relatively briefly; standing by her man was part of being married, she argues, quite forthrightly, and that matter-of-fact blunt approach, taking away from any darker subject matter, is exactly the kind of thing that has made her a person to both like and be frustrated by – you admire her, but only ever from afar.
We do get some personal details, most notably from former classmates from her university days, where Hillary’s awakening to civil rights and gender equality are endearing to witness. But there’s more professional than personal drama on offer, as wW follow through her days as First Lady, taking on more responsibility than any other First Lady in the history of the White House – the kind of responsibilities that made her a perfect fit for Barack Obama’s Secretary of State. The final chapters then speed on to her solo political campaigning, giving us a whistle-stop tour of her failed presidential run – a car crash replayed at high speed.
That exclusive access gives us never-before-seen campaign footage, and lets us see how frustrated she is by Donald Trump’s bare-faced lies and unabashed personal attacks – it’s in these moments that we feel we see the real Hillary, ready to come out fighting when her back’s against the wall. That resilience is a winning quality and one that cements her a key player in modern social and political history.
But director Nanette Burstein is so keen to cram as much as possible into these four hours that even those moments feel fleeting and rushed. It’s that occasionally haphazard pacing that highlights how the show doesn’t always find its balance between historical context and candid insight – the compromise, perhaps, for getting access to Hillary Clinton in the first place.
And yet, what Burstein’s documentary does succeed in is capturing that duality of its subject, the carefully composed public persona and the brief glimpses of the person beneath. Every time we get a hint of that conflict, backed up by the campaign staff’s interviews, Hillary becomes less a hagiography and more a tribute to a woman who kept persevering in the face of men who (intentionally or not) repeatedly got in her way. “Do you think anyone asked Bernie Sanders about his shoes?” she asks at one point, and that determination, that grit, makes for a genuinely inspiring watch. If only that grit were more on display, perhaps the documentary would have recounted a very different story.
Hillary is available on Sky Documentaries. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it live and on-demand legally on NOW TV, for £8.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial. (An Entertainment Pass auto-renews at £8.99 a month until 1st September 2020, £9.99 thereafter unless cancelled.)