Showtime Review ‘The First Lady’

By: 
Ben Miles

Created by Aaron Cooley and directed by Susanne Bier, the Showtime series “The First Lady,” starring Viola Davis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Gillian Anderson as a trio of American First Ladies is currently streaming on Showtime.

Viola Davis appears to be channeling her character through her heavily lipsticked lips (perhaps it’s a means for the actor to feel more akin to the character). Nevertheless, it proves to be a distraction for this audience member.

Gillian Anderson, at 5 ft. 2 in., is much shorter than Eleanor Roosevelt, who stood at 5 ft. 11 in.; Anderson, therefore, seemingly chose to build her character from the teeth up

Although both Davis and Anderson have credible moments in their respective roles, it is Michelle Pfeiffer who most believably embodies her role as Mrs. Ford. She demonstrated the destructive toll breast cancer, drug addiction and alcoholism that took on Mrs. Ford, as well as the heroic recover and service Mrs. Ford’s recovery provided for other sufferers in the nation.

In 10 episodes we are offered a sweep of history that ranges from glimpses of the Roosevelts from the 19th century and well into the 20th century and World War 2. We also glimpse the early days of the Ford coupling and see them in the 1970s and 80s. And we see the Obama’s in flashbacks to Michelle’s early days as Michelle Robinson to her days as Mrs. Obama and her time as matron of the White House.

Co-starring as the presidents and husbands of these three First Ladies are O-T Fagbenle as Barack Obama, Aaron Elkhart as Gerald Ford and Kiefer Sutherland as Franklin Roosevelt. Each actor is adequately convincing in bringing life to these challenging roles. Sutherland is especially powerful conveying Roosevelt’s paraplegia, which was the result of his affliction with poliomyelitis at age 39.

The costuming (Jason Wu recreated an inaugural gown he designed for Mrs. Obama for the series) and production design, by Tony Fanning, are impressive and (along with crisp editing by Sam Williams, Matthew Cannings, Lindsey Woodward and Nicolas Chaudeurge and peephole-like cinematography by Amir Morris) let us know immediately what time period the series is entering.

Each episode is about an hour in length and while “The First Lady” makes no pretense at being a scholarly documentary, it does bring a soap opera-like intrigue to the White House and such imaginative leaps serve in creating somewhat intriguing drama. There have been 46 First Ladies. Does that portend 43 more First Lady portrayals?

‘The First Lady’ includes 10 episodes in Season 1 and is currently streaming on Showtime

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