09 July 2020 06:32
REVIEW Mrs America BBC2 ★★★★☆ THINK of a drama about an American anti-feminist who took a stand for all the homemakers against the Equal Rights Amendment in America in the early 1970s and, given television's acknowledged liberal bias, you'd justifiably expect a hatchet job. So the fact that Cate Blanchett (pictured) manages to provoke a hint of sympathy and, yes, even understanding, for Republican reactionary Phyllis Schlafly — imagine Margaret Thatcher but with better hair — is a credit to the nuanced way Blanchett builds a character who saw herself as the embodiment of all that America stood for, a female Canute fighting back against a tide of demands for women's rights. Because, however much you might have abhorred Schlafly's political views, Blanchett's portrayal presents a complex character who refused to fit into an easy baddie stereotype. Educated and well-informed, she could run rings intellectually around any man in the room but believed the best way was to climb to the top of the castle, not tear it down and start again. It made for a bravura opening to Mrs America, a look back half a century to the flowering of the women's rights movement, led by writers such as Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan.
The second episode, with Rose Byrne as the aforementioned literary firebrand Steinem, took us into the familiar but time-locked world of radical politics, fighting the fight that, five decades on, continues to be fought. But it was Phyllis Schlafly's story that was more illuminating, for in her you could see the roots of an American lineage, cleverly outlined by Mad Men writer Dahvi Waller, which has led millions of American women to see Ronald Reagan and, latterly, Donald Trump, installed in the White House. A pioneer of the 'if you can't beat them, join them' school of political thought, Schlafly was the kind of character you underestimate at your peril. Equality for ogres!