Alison Rowat’s TV week
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