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FX/BBC TV REVIEW – MRS AMERICA (2020)

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.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

TV & FILM DOCUMENTARY REVIEWS INCLUDING: FOR SAMA (2019), WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOUR (2018) & THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS (2018) ETC.

TV & FILM DOCUMENTARY REVIEWS

Obviously, I watch a hell of a lot of fiction films and television shows. Every now and then I try and catch up with some documentaries about actual events, people and serious matters. Personally, I love nothing more than to immerse myself in fictional worlds, but sometimes it’s important to explore the “truth”.

Having said that, some documentaries contain highly constructed narratives with as much, if not more drama than fictional works. Indeed, very often truth is much stranger than fiction. Thus, here are six documentaries I have watched recently. As some of these reviews deal with serious issues, I have dispensed with the usual marking system, so as not to trivialise them.

******CONTAINS FACTUAL SPOILERS******


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BRITAIN’S CHILD DRUG RUNNERS – CHANNEL 4/ALL 4

Dispatches is a long-running documentary series which examines hard-hitting issues in society and the world as a whole. This particular episode sought to shed light on the gangs which lure teenagers into their drug running crimes. Children, some as young as eleven, are used to run “County Lines” delivering and selling drugs. The programme was fascinating and showed how the children’s, parents, police enforcement and society in general is being tragically affected by this problem.


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CATCHING A KILLER (2019) – CHANNEL 4/ALL 4

Murder documentaries are like rats in the city, infesting our TV screens and streaming platforms. Some of the true-life ones can be lurid and trashy, however, this one from Channel 4 was moving and of high quality. The series focuses on ongoing investigations and follows police as they investigate the crime and gather evidence. This particular episode profiled a retired gentleman who relatives believed had died of natural causes. It soon became clear that the victim had been cruelly conned and manipulated by a charming, but devious killer.


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FOR SAMA (2019) – CHANNEL 4/ALL 4

This incredibly moving and harrowing documentary took you into the heart of the Syrian conflict. Filmmaker and journalist, Waad Al-Kateab began filming in 2011 and continued for many years as her home in East Aleppo became a bomb site full of loss, destruction and death. Despite this she met her husband, a Doctor, and gave birth to her daughter, Sama. Choosing to stay amidst the explosions and blood was not only an incredible commitment to the story, but also a testament to the bravery of those lives impacted by war. I don’t know much about the Syrian war, and obviously this is just one side of what is a very complex matter. Yet, despite all the pain and suffering on show, one must admire the resilience of those involved and I am not surprised the film has gone onto to win many awards.


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MARRIED TO A PAEDOPHILE (2018) – CHANNEL 4/ALL 4

This salacious sounding documentary is not as exploitation based as it would appear. Focusing on three families who lives have been torn apart because the man of the family had downloaded child pornography, it explores the aftermath of this serious crime. Interestingly, the documentary featured the real voices of the people involved, but with actors playing their roles. It’s an intriguing subject as the wives and children of these men are left to deal with not just shame and guilt, but vindictive neighbours and broken relationships.


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THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS (2018) – CHANNEL 4/ALL 4

This is genuinely one of those stories you would not believe, unless perhaps it was in a science fiction cloning drama or something. The documentary film examines the past and present lives of triplets who were given up for adoption in the early 1960’s. The issue was none of them, or their adoptive parents, were told of the others existence. Thus, years later when they meet each other aged 19, through sheer coincidence, they have one hell of a surprise. The first half of this documentary is very engaging and positive as the trio, Bobby, Eddy and David reunite and become celebrities, appearing on chat shows and magazine front pages in 1980’s America. The second half of this incredible film then darkens somewhat as the truth as to what actually happened is revealed. It is truly astonishing to watch!


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WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOUR (2018) – NETFLIX

Having watched and reviewed the recent film release, A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (2019) here, I decided to head over to Netflix and check out the earlier documentary about American TV legend, Fred Rogers. Like the feature drama, this highlights the strength, wisdom and kindness of a great man, determined to instil worth and warmth into children’s lives. It’s a finely constructed documentary with an intermingling of footage from Rogers’ television shows, historical interviews with the man himself, plus friends, family and people he worked with paying tribute to a fine human being. The film asks, “Won’t You Be My Neighbour?” My answer is a definite YES!


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