Mrs America was completely unknown to me, I wasn’t aware of its creation and it was by chance I came across an advert on social media that caught my eye – Cate Blanchett was reason enough but the stellar all-star cast and an intriguing premise really sold me and got me on a BBC iplayer binge I’d not been on since Rupaul’s Drag Race UK.
Mrs America follows the progress of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) that would change the constitution to give equalised rights to women, the story follows the lives of the women at the forefront of both sides of the political spectrum – including the second wave feminists fighting tooth and nail to get the ammendment passed and Phyllis Schlafly a famous right wing campaigner who lead the women of “STOP ERA” movement.
Cate Blanchett brings Phyllis Schlafly to life with an incredible accuracy, from the hardened stares, to the southern drawl and the biting wit the real life Schlafly possessed. It’s a terrifying recreation of a character that’s abhorrent in her views, it’s one the best TV performances I’ve even seen this year and if it doesn’t win her an Emmy or Golden Globe I’ll be shocked. On the other side of the political fence is Rose Byrne playing feminist Gloria Steinem, a woman still active today – Byrne plays the role to perfection like Blanchett there’s a sense of excitement every time the character appears on screen, in episodes where she is featured less, her presence is missed and manages to steal the lime light from others even on limited screen time. The clash of these two titans is a thrill, but oddly the two characters never actually come in contact with one another, it’s face off that would have delighted audiences but as it never happened in real life – it never occurs in the show.
All the performances are fantastic, there are no weak links here; Uzo Aduba, Elizabeth Banks, Tracey Ullman and Sarah Paulson all do great work in their respective roles, playing close to the real-life counter parts with excellent accuracy and emotional weight. Sarah Paulson’s character is one of the few fictionalised characters in the show, which is why it’s surprising that the penultimate episode features her so heavily, it’s one of the few missteps in the series, though Paulson is great in the role – the fictional context of her dedicated episode feels more “Hollywoodized” than prior episodes that are often so close to the actual events the series could be classed as an educational dramatized documentary.
One of the biggest hooks of the series is how closely aligned to historical accuracy it actually is, so much so that I found myself looking up individual characters in the show to gain a better perspective of their roles in both the ERA movement and their past and future political careers. This is a clear sign of the series engrossing nature as I wanted to immense myself even more in this thrilling and frustrating world. Phyllis Schlafly is incredibly interesting despite her horrible political views, a woman of determination and high intellect – who can easily outclass her male counter-parts but due to her political leanings has be willingly side-lined by her male counterparts. Her stance in the show is intriguing and contradictory as she strives to keep women as housewives while also doing everything to further herself and her career away from her duties as a wife and mother.
The 1970’s has been beautifully realised in the show, from the cinematography, the sets and excellent costume design. Gloria Steinem long hippy hair with aviator glasses is absolutely iconic and as Brit who is totally unfamiliar with the women featured in the show I was instantly obsessed with each and every one of them. There are some pacing issues here and there, with such a large ensemble some characters can get lost in the noise. And one cannot help but see a certain bias towards the portrayal of the ERA ladies compared to the STOP ERA ladies, though I certainly prefer this to the other end of the stectrum – it’s a shame Schlafly’s supporting characters were given a lot more creative license rather than being based on real women, this makes the two sides feel a little disjointed at times and probably why the 8th episode “Houston” sticks out so badly compared to the rest of the series.
Mrs America is a fantastically acted, beautifully realised miniseries, whose subject matter is still relevant even today. All the real-life characters are compelling and the show will make you want to research the era in detail to understand the background even more. Cate Blanchett and Rose Byrne steal the show, the whole thing is worth watching for their performances alone. So much love, craft and talent has been put into Mrs America, it makes it a must-watch for anyone who loves a political drama.
- The acting – especially Cate Blanchett and Rose Byrne
- The period costume design
- Excellent production design
- Interesting period of history, with accurate portrayals
- Excellent cinematography
- Sometimes a little slow to get going
- Schlafly’s supporting players aren’t as well realised
- “Houston” episode throws realism out the window