And yet, against that force, the ensemble gives an almighty effort to steal the show. Individually, few actors have the charisma needed to topple Blanchett in full flight. But in Mrs America, the screen tingles with dazzling exchanges, particularly as Martindale and Ullman come out to play. Equipped with their natural timing, as much as it confounds and challenges you, Mrs America unexpectedly charms you and makes you smile.
And in this midst of all that, the figure of Schlafly is still a perplexing and perhaps even inexplicable one. Looking at this through the prism of modern life, it’s hard not to judge her harshly. Her anti-feminist stance is fundamentally fraudulent, built as it is on the work of braver women who built a platform for advocating change, only to have Schlafly then use it in the pursuit of slowing the ticking clock of progress.
At the same time, Mrs America is no left-wing polemic. Indeed, Blanchett’s performance is so nuanced that it almost dares you to dislike her. Blanchett’s Schlafly is solid, committed, unwavering in the clarity through which she sees the world. Her strength is admirable. Far from finding her unlikeable, it’s hard not to like her.
Her anti-feminist stance is fundamentally fraudulent, built as it is on the work of braver women who built a platform for advocating change, only to have Schlafly then use it in the pursuit of slowing the ticking clock of progress.
Blanchett’s interpretation, too, seems to dance through the complex contradiction of Schlafly. Was she merely an ambitious woman who saw the emergence of a conservative anti-feminist agenda as the path to greater political power? Or was she a genuine ideologue? It feels like writer Dahvi Waller suspects the former but the piece generously refrains from ruling out either.
Refreshingly too, Mrs America is a limited series that stands up authentically in the format, and not one that seems to want to sidestep its way into a regular series. (That’s you, Big Little Lies.) There is a reason writers find the longer format of television so appealing. Keeping Mrs America taut retains the cinematic DNA that makes it so wholly compelling in the first place.
Tuesdays, 8.30pm, Fox Showcase