Mrs America

BBC2 / iPLAYER

While US troops were losing the war in Vietnam, on the home front new battle lines were being drawn in 1970s America – this time between opposing armies of women. 

On one side were the feminist champions of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and on the other, an army of conservative “home-makers” led by Phyllis Schlafly, a high-flying Republican who berated women’s libbers for their “negative” attitude, which she considered to be “downright un-American”.

A force of nature with an immovable Margaret Thatcher hairdo (and a fair bit of her immovable personality), Schlafly – at least as played by Cate Blanchett in Mrs America – manages to be both the smartest person in any room, and terminally deluded. “I’ve never been discriminated against,” she insists. “I think some women like to blame sexism for their own failures instead of admitting their didn’t try hard enough.” And yet she is constantly sidelined and patronised by men, whether being forced to take the minutes of meetings or paraded on the catwalk in a Stars and Stripes bikini as a literal Republican trophy wife. At times, you sense a flicker of doubt and self-awareness behind the eyes, but it’s always too fleeting to bring about any serious course correction.

All this is a gift of a role for Blanchett, leading a powerhouse female cast that also includes Tracey Ullman as activist Betty Friedan and Uzo Aduba as Shirley Chisholm, the first African American congresswoman. Then there’s Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem, the bestselling writer who, with no small irony, is badgered into becoming a poster girl for the feminist movement because, as one of her fellow campaigners puts it, “we need a pretty face”.

Created Dahvi Waller, Mrs America tells what could be a depressing story (spoiler: 50 years on, the ERA still hasn’t been passed) with great energy and vim, not to mention a seriously funkadelic 70s soundtrack and a great eye for period detail – think Mad Men with more swirly orange and brown wallpaper and rattan furniture. (And fewer men, obviously.)

THE KEMPS: ALL TRUE

BBC2 / iPLAYER

The problem with making a mockumentary about 80s pop siblings is it’s going to struggle to compete with 2018’s (unintentionally) hilarious Bros: After the Screaming Stops. But writer-director Rhys Thomas has a very good go, assisted by a brilliantly deadpan Gary and Martin Kemp, late of Spandau Ballet, gamely playing cartoon versions of themselves. Highlights include Gary’s bitter grudge against Tony Hadley and the revelation that Martin is actually married to Pepsi and Shirlie. Gloriously daft fun.

HOW THE BEATLES CHANGED THE WORLD

YESTERDAY / YOUVIEW

With so many good documentaries about The Beatles (some of them **by** The Beatles) you need a pretty good reason to add to the slush pile. This one sets out to prove they were four lads who shook not just the world of music, but art, fashion, politics and even the class system. It isn’t entirely convincing – The Beatles surely stole as much from the counterculture as they gave back – but the soundtrack is terrific (obviously).

Published in Waitrose Weekend, July 9 2020 (c) Waitrose Weekend

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: