Period drama always used to mean Jane Austen and good manners. And even better manors. But, in recent years the genre has been upended with a fascination for the late-twentieth century. And here comes a 1970s drama, with Cate Blanchett at its heart, telling the compelling story of the woman who fought against the feminist movements of that decade.
Mrs America sees Cate Blanchett starring as Phyllis Schlafly who led the 1970s fightback against the Equal Rights Amendment, which sought to equalise the rights of American men and women. In The Times Hugo Rifkind acknowledges that the idea of a right-wing counter-revolutionary is not standard fare for the liberal-leaning TV establishment: “To moan about left-wing bias among actors, scriptwriters, comedians and directors is a bit like moaning about right-wing bias among tax lawyers, or offshore fund managers, or masters of fox hounds. Yes, there is a bias. No, it is not strange. But it does, sometimes, make some stories hard to tell.” Nevertheless Mrs America is “broadly excellent” and Cate Blanchett is “mesmerising”.
In The New York Times James Poniewozik calls it a “a kind of spiritual successor” to Mad Men. It is, he thinks, “a meticulously created and observed mural that finds the germ of contemporary America in the striving of righteously mad women.” It is he says “smitten with its subjects, but in a cleareyed way, awed but not overawed. Mrs America is a disco ball packed with TNT, a pop-literate political drama that’s not too cool to be optimistic, not too triumphalist to lay down a challenge to its country today.”
Lucy Mangan in The Guardian sees a duality at the heart of the series which celebrates the progress of second-wave feminism but also reminds us of the forces arraigned against it. “It marshals its abundant material brilliantly, reflecting all the besetting sins we still suffer from and for… Mrs America has a generous heart and is at all times infused with the optimism of the era.”
You might watch Mrs America for Cate Blanchett’s stunning performance, the seventies vibe or even for Rose Byrne as Gloria Steinem striding down a hotel corridor to I Feel Love. But you might also watch it for the gripping political history and if you do, you’ll be shocked to know that the Equal Rights Amendment which is the nub of the series remains unpassed to this day.
First shown July 2020. You can watch the trailer by pressing play on the show image, or by clicking here.