Hillary Review

A compelling portrait of a modern feminist figure

Hillary Review

What one needs to remember about Nanette Burstein’s executive produced and directed docuseries on the political and personal life of Hillary Rodham Clinton, is that it is unlikely to change your opinion (whichever side of the spectrum you do fall) of the public figure, who in the words of one of her own campaigners is “one of the most admired and most vilified women in the world.” It is unlikely, perhaps, that you are one of the many million people who has been part of the electoral roll of the 2016 election (since the show already premiered as a 253-minute feature film at the 2020 Sundance Festival, and as a series on Hulu much before it makes its premiere on India’s Voot Select). However, if you are interested in seeing an icon of radical feminism being brought to life, this series is right up your alley.

What is the story about?

The narrative is neatly divided into four parts, for the purpose of fitting into the series format. A vivacious, relaxed and extremely human Clinton starts the show by explaining that with her, “what you see is what you get.” And thus, we begin taking a look at her resume through her own lens, and through the varying viewpoints of her husband Bill Clinton, her colleagues, her campaigners, her former classmates and friends, and her detractors. We go from her timely entry into the second-wave of feminism, her role in the impeachment inquiry team tasked with determining whether Nixon abused power during the Watergate scandal, and of course, the 2016 Presidential election. The elephant in the room to plebeians like us remains Clinton’s orthodox methodist Republican upbringing and eventual romance with Bill. Her kin from Wellesley College and Yale Law school are called to highlight the hidden aspects of her education. We see her policies as First Lady on two presidential campaigns, and turn more radical as Senator and a Secretary of State. The final chapter is completely concentrated on her battle in the White House and the frustration and pain of Election Day, making this series as timely as ever. There are still questions over how trustworthy and uncorrupt she is, but at least the testimonials help in showing her human side. 

 

Highlights

Before you assume that the series whitewashes a lot of hot-topics in Hillary’s lifetime - Benghazi, Whitewater, the failed Health Care initiative as First Lady, “Super Predators,” the email server controversy, and her husband’s infidelities including… ahem… Monica Lewinsky, well there is some reflection of her truth there somewhere. There has been a lot of effort put in by Burstein to give a wholesome look at Clinton’s life by speaking to notable names like Robby Mook, John Podesta, Jennifer Palmieri, and even Barack Obama, amongst others, to talk about these big (and small) events in her life. It’s mostly just Hillary though, and at many points during the series, she looks genuinely remorseful over many of her own decisions in the past, as much as she is haunted by some unsavoury events too. 
 
From a showcase perspective, additionally, there is the strategic usage of some of the best never-seen-before footage from Clinton’s own archive, and it’s not all positive. There is the Senator’s reaction with her staff at her defeat by Donald Trump. There is a beautifully awkward moment before her debate against Bernie Sanders. It is notable that the series isn’t interested in creating a pretty portrait of her as a notable political figure. She is guarded, as always, but still manages to provide some insight into every aspect of her interesting life. Bill Clinton is also honest about his mistakes in their marriage and his presidency, and speaking to him and her circle further establishes how important she is as a figure within the modern feminist movement, even if it means people’s genuine disdain over her choice to continue staying with Bill Clinton even after the news of his affairs were out. The show subliminally has a lot to say about the way America positions its women (and that includes - by other women). Hillary bears the burden of the world’s expectations and many of them are extra ambitious because she’s a woman. It doesn’t matter that she has paved a path for many women along the way.

 

Drawbacks

Scandals notwithstanding, it is fairly evident from the first episode itself that ‘Hillary’ is least interested in taking an actual stance for or against the figure in question, a problem that usually plagues shows or films of this nature. The series is candid but hardly scandalous. It is well made and well structured, but it works best as a biopic sort of timeline of interesting and exhilarating events that would exasperate you on a human level more than on a political level. This may feel somewhat like a copout, which may as well be true. That will be a legitimate criticism if you are someone who is extremely political or looking to position yourself on either side of an actual debate. By virtue of its existence, ‘Hillary’ deserves to be a lot more political and it was very possible with the kind of names that do appear to speak for and against her. But the stance is that we are chronicling Hillary’s life and not her politics. 

Do I recommend it?

Sure! ‘Hillary’ is mostly harmless and extremely compelling with some genuine moments of intrigue that can at least spur an online/offline debate on Clinton’s motivations. It’s a bit overwhelming, all this information without allegiance, but it’s a relaxing and interesting watch - much like what happens to politicians who are no longer in the race for people’s votes. 

 


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