FX/BBC TV REVIEW – MRS AMERICA (2020)
Created by: Dahvi Waller
Producers: Tanya Barfield, Boo Killebrew, Sharon Hoffman
Writers: Dahvi Waller, Tanya Barfield, Boo Killebrew, Micah Schraft and April Shih, Sharon Hoffman, Joshua Allen-Griffiths, etc.
Directors: Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, Amma Asante, Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre, Janicza Bravo,
Cast: Cate Blanchett, Rose Byrne, Uzo Aduba, Elizabeth Banks, Kayli Carter, Ari Graynor, Melanie Lynskey, Margo Martindale, John Slattery, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Tracey Ullman, Sarah Paulson, and many more.
No. of Episodes: 9
Original Network: FX on Hulu / BBC (UK)
*** CONTAINS HISTORICAL SPOILERS ***
“Feminism has never been about getting a job for one woman. It’s about making life more fair for women everywhere. It’s not about a piece of the existing pie; there are too many of us for that. It’s about baking a new pie.” — Gloria Steinem
I just won’t ever understand this world and the people in it. We are capable of wonderful moments of love and compassion and just being good to one another, but equally just as capable of negativity, division and dispute. Take for example the Equal Rights movement. First proposed by the National Woman’s political party in 1923, the Equal Rights Amendment was to provide legal equality of the sexes and prohibit sex discrimination.
Initially failing, the E.R.A. was revived in the late 1960s, and throughout the 1970s tireless work was done to get it ratified. Here was a group of people striving for gender equality and generally fighting for better working conditions. This for me is a noble cause. However, unbelievably there were women, not just men, in America who were AGAINST the Equal Rights Amendment. Of course, it is a constitutional right to freedom of speech and to protest your point of view, however, arguing against something that is looking to improve lives is hard to credit.
FX’s historical biopic, Mrs America (2020) is set against the backdrop of the 1970s and it dramatizes the amazing fight by those individuals and groups seeking to ratify the E.R.A. across the disunited states of America. Leading political activists such as Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne), Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman), Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba), Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale) and Jill Ruckelshaus (Elizabeth Banks) were just a few of the people struggling to get the E.R.A. over the line. While it seems like a no-brainer to me, the 1970s was clearly another country when it came to gender roles and the treatment of women. Thus, the amendment, while slowly gathering momentum in various states, faced much opposition. The mini-series represents the major source of opposition in ultra-conservative spokesperson, Phyllis Schlafly (Cate Blanchett), an activist and lobbyist who started the No E.R.A campaign group. The battles between her group and the feminist legion gives way to much incisive drama, comedy and entertainment.
Presented in nine brilliantly written, acted and directed episodes, Mrs America (2020) is television of the highest quality. The ensemble cast is one of the finest ever assembled in my opinion and there are so many amazing performances. Cate Blanchett is magnetically charismatic as PhylIis Schlafly. Blanchett gives a complex characterisation of a formidable woman who, while striving to be taken seriously in the world of law and politics, finds she is undermined by the men she is fighting for. Sarah Paulson also gives another nuanced and exquisite rendition of a housewife on a slow journey of self-realisation. There are just too many great acting portrayals to mention, but Tracey Ullman steals every scene she is in for sure.
Overall, Mrs America (2020) takes a potentially dry subject and infuses it with the intricacies of both political intrigue and powerful personality. The script fizzes with wit, style and verve, and is supported by an amazing soundtrack and some jaw-dropping acting. No doubt many liberties have been taken with the events for dramatic purposes. But if that means bringing to prominence this important struggle then I am all for it. Rather incredibly, the E.R.A., at the time of the programme’s release this year, still had not been ratified by the number of States needed to make it law. I know it’s too complex an issue to be resolved so easily, however should this political matter still remain unratified today? It remains a sad indictment of humanity that equality for all was seen as such a negative thing in the 1970s, especially by individuals it sought to protect.