Many would claim that the late anti-gay, anti-feminist, anti-abortion conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly has been painted as the heroine of FX’s newest period piece. However, the humanisation of such a divisive in Mrs America is much more down to a wickedly sleek performance from Academy Award winner Cate Blanchett, rather than actively encouraging us to root for Schlafly’s side in the 1970s fight over the Equal Rights Amendment (the ERA).
In this stylish, Ryan Murphy-esque portrayal of both sides of the Women’s Liberation Movement, Blanchett’s Schlafly and her gaggle of condescending, pastel-clad housewives (including FX darling Sarah Paulson as timid accomplice Alice Macray) find their conservative agenda foiled by a similarly star-studded cast of women. Rose Byrne and Tracey Ullman brilliantly play two iconic powerhouses of the American feminist movement, Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan respectively, their literary rivalry a source of both comedy and contention throughout the show’s episodic character spotlights.
The above-mentioned infighting concerning black representation, reproductive rights and gay rights deepens the depiction of both sides of the political spectrum, with our support of individual personalities ebbing and flowing throughout the series. Ullman’s Friedan is a trash-talking, second-wave feminist who’s chewing of the political scenery makes rooting for her in the first few episodes all the more easier, but wanes when it is said she kept an entire generation of lesbians out of the Women’s Liberation Movement due to her own personal views.
Blanchett’s Mrs Schlafly has her voice silenced in rooms filled with white political figureheads bragging about sleeping with their secretaries, but in a tense must-see face-off with Elizabeth Banks’ Jill Ruckelshaus in Episode Six, blames those same secretaries’ lack of ‘virtuousness’ for how they are treated by men on Capitol Hill. The show strikes a clear balance between black and white goodness and villainy, always investing the same amount of screen time across both Democrats and Republicans, feminists and anti-feminists, etc.
Mrs America is a riveting insight into how two inexplicably opposing forces tick
In the vein of previous FX ventures like American Crime Story and Feud, Mrs America is a riveting insight into how two inexplicably opposing forces tick, with Cate Blanchett's character shining as neither a hero of all conservatives nor villain of all women.
All episodes of Mrs America are available on BBC iPlayer.