My wife and I just completed watching the wonderful Showtime ten-part miniseries called “The First Lady” which highlights the lives of three first ladies. The first season focused on Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford, and Michelle Obama as it flipped back to each First Lady and various points in her life. I hope there is a next season which will likely focus on three more women.
Gillian Anderson does a superb job as Roosevelt, while Michelle Pfeiffer and Viola Davis do the same with Ford and Obama. Roosevelt has the most screen time as she was First Lady for twelve years and went on to serve as the US lead delegate to the formation of the United Nations. Yet, we do see a lot of the other two who had their own sets of challenges.
Ford was beloved by Americans more so than her husband. She counseled him not to pardon Richard Nixon which turned out to be a key reason he was not reelected. But, she was also addicted first to alcohol and then pain-killers. It got so bad her family had to do a full on intervention. She at first hated her daughter for being the first one to try, but when Gerald Ford saw how bad it had gotten, he upped the ante. Ford would go on to establish the Betty Ford Center to help addicted people.
Obama had major challenges as did her husband being the first African-American woman First Lady. The racism she faced her entire life could not totally prepare her for the full on racism she would face as First Lady. We see the tensions between her and Rahm Emanuel as he tries to rein her in as her husband danced a finer line so as not to alienate white voters. And, we see a beleaguered Hillary Clinton ask for help on her campaign to stave off the attacks of the next president in the campaign.
Kiefer Sutherland plays FDR, with Aaron Eckhart playing Ford and O-T Fagbenie playing Obama. Dakota Fanning gets a lot of airtime as Susan Ford, the daughter who tried to help her mother first. Regina Taylor and Lexi Underwood play Michelle’s mother and Malia her daughter. And, Lily Rabe plays a key role in Lorena Hickock addressing full on the rumors of Eleanor’s Lesbian relationship after having six kids and her husband’s infidelity.
While each President leaned on his wife for help, Roosevelt was very much an advisor to her husband. FDR knew she would shoot straight with him. Even though each had other lovers, they were friends and confidantes. She also helped shape some of his speeches and because of her weekly radio broadcast, FDR had her be the first person to address Americans after Pearl Harbor. Finally, since he could not get out and about with his wheelchair, FDR had Eleanor be his arms and legs as well to visit some places like Australia during WWII to see the wounded and fighting troops.
The series is well done. I have seen some criticism, but to me it was entertaining and informative, even though it takes some liberties with the truth as it claims from the outset. We look forward to the next season.