Alison Rowat’s TV week

The Herald - The Herald Magazine - - Contents - ALISON ROWAT

ONE of the many de­lights of Mrs Amer­ica (BBC2, Wed­nes­day) was the way zingers reg­u­larly flew through the air like bul­lets. Set in the US as the Viet­nam war raged, the fo­cus of Dahvi Waller’s drama was the fight for equal rights.

“No-one likes fem­i­nists,” said Fred Sch­lafly, hus­band of doughty Repub­li­can and an­ti­women’s lib­ber Phyl­lis. “Not even lib­er­als.”

“That’s true,” trilled Phyl­lis. “They’re no fun.”

Cut to a scene of Glo­ria Steinem slo-mo walk­ing into the Guggen­heim on Fifth Av­enue to launch her new mag­a­zine, “Ms”. Long hair, coltish pins, avi­a­tor glasses and an Ado­nis on her arm, Steinem was clearly hav­ing about as much fun as a woman can legally have in pub­lic. But it was all about per­cep­tion, see. One woman’s lonely child­less fem­i­nist was an­other’s red hot editor light­ing up the age. Whose side were you on?

Mrs Amer­ica, to its credit, did not make it easy to choose a side and stick to it. Cer­tainly, Sch­lafly (played mag­nif­i­cently by Cate Blanchett) was a mon­ster at times, ruth­less, ma­nip­u­la­tive, a pur­veyor of fake news be­fore the term was born, but she suf­fered, too, from be­ing a woman in a man’s world. Then there was the groovy gang, Glo­ria (Rose Byrne), Shirley Chisholm (UzoA­duba) and Betty Friedan (Tracey Ull­man) to the fore.

This was a drama that liked women, loved them even, but was as clear-eyed about their strengths as their weak­nesses. “Peo­ple are al­ways try­ing to di­vide up women,” said Steinem to Friedan af­ter an­other fall­ing out be­tween the pair. “It’s just an­other way to take away our power.”

I think Betty and Glo­ria could have raised a col­lec­tive eye­brow over The Se­crets She Keeps (BBC1, Mon­day-Tues­day), a

new drama set in sub­ur­ban Aus­tralia. Adapted from Michael Robotham’s novel, this tale of two women came from the genre I like to call “Women Do the Cra­zi­est Things, Bless Them”.

Yummy mummy blog­ger Meghan was hav­ing her third baby; mousey and barely-get­ting-by shop as­sis­tant Agatha was hav­ing her first. But all was not as it seemed. Why had Ag­gie (Laura Carmichael, a long way from Lady Edith in Down­ton Abbey) taken to stand­ing in the dark in Meghan’s gar­den, spy­ing on her? Why was Meghan (Jes­sica de Gouw) so iffy with her hus­band’s best pal? And why were there so many staff in that

tiny cor­ner shop when Meghan was its only cus­tomer?

The Se­crets She Keeps was soap opera dressed up as a psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller, the kind of well-worn hokum in which women slap men in the face, men say, “You know I’m in love with you”, and peo­ple are al­ways a split sec­ond away from get­ting caught do­ing some­thing they shouldn’t. Dis­tract­ing in a sum­mer TV, noth­ing on Net­flix kind of way, and a classy per­for­mance from Lady Edith, but the angst was ex­haust­ing and there are still four episodes to go.

The Bat­tle of Bri­tain: 3 Days That Saved the Na­tion (Chan­nel 5, Tues­day-Thurs­day) promised it would not go down the fa­mil­iar route of fo­cus­ing on “tac­tics, ma­chines and fa­mous names”. While the first two in­evitably came into play as pre­sen­ters

Kate Hum­ble and Dan Snow took to the skies in Spit­fires, the pro­gramme was as good as its word the lat­ter. Here was the story of Flight Lieu­tenant Archie McKel­lar, who grew up in a Pais­ley ten­e­ment, used his wages as an ap­pren­tice to pay for fly­ing lessons, and be­came an ace pilot, shoot­ing down record num­bers of en­emy air­craft. Here, too, we learned about fel­low Scot John Hannah, 18, who put out a fire in his plane, even though hor­rif­i­cally in­jured, and was awarded the VC.

Now 80 years on, it was left to various neph­ews, sons, and other rel­a­tives to tell the sto­ries, or in some cases learn de­tails of their an­ces­tors’ hero­ism for the first time, as Snow and Hum­ble em­barked on “Who Do You Think You Are” dives into the records. All those young men and women, sac­ri­fic­ing so much. One hoped they all man­aged to live hap­pily ever af­ter but of course it could not be.

One haunt­ing fact among many was that the av­er­age life ex­pectancy of a Bat­tle of Bri­tain pilot was four weeks.

There She Goes (BBC2, Thurs­day), back for a sec­ond se­ries, be­gan in typ­i­cally an­ar­chic fash­ion with a fam­ily trip to the li­brary. As daugh­ter Rosie, who has learn­ing dis­abil­i­ties, raced around pulling books off shelves and crash­ing the par­ent and tod­dler book cir­cle, par­ents Si­mon and Emily (David Ten­nant and Jes­sica Hynes) dealt with the eye rolls and tut­ting by apol­o­gis­ing a lot.

As ever, writ­ers Shaun Pye and Sarah Craw­ford, who based the com­edy drama on their own ex­pe­ri­ences, did not sugar coat the lows. The flash­back scene in the car af­ter Si­mon and Emily had been told the ex­tent of Rosie’s dis­abil­ity was a heart­breaker, but there was so much joy here be­sides.

Laura Carmichael and Jes­sica De Gouw play Ag­gie and Meghan in The Se­crets She Keeps; Uzo Aduba is Con­gress­woman Shirley Chisholm in Mrs Amer­ica

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