The series of the week: The First Lady | The lives of three first ladies under the magnifying glass

The First Lady, a series presented on Crave, immerses us in the lives of three American First Ladies, Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford and Michelle Obama. Three different eras, three women who lived in the White House and who shaped history in their own way. The First Ladyit is also the pleasure of seeing three very talented actresses again, namely Gillian Anderson, Michelle Pfeiffer and Viola Davis.

Posted at 10:00 am

Olivia Levy

Olivia Levy
The press

The White House with a difference

This is director Susanne Bier (The doom, The night manager), who signs the 10 episodes of the series, which alternates between archival documents and flashbacks where we find these women in their youth and ultimately in their lives as First Lady. We discover how influential, feminist and progressive they were. From the start of the series we feel like we’re a privileged witness to her life and it keeps us hooked until the end.

“You enter the White House through a different door. Everything that cannot be seen and what happens behind it is staged and fascinating,” says Martine Delvaux, author and professor in the Department of Literature at UQAM. She points out that she learned a lot from watching the series.

The Influence of the First Ladies


PHOTO RAMONA ROSALES PROVIDED BY SHOWTIME

Gillian Anderson plays Eleanor Roosevelt The First Lady.

We see that Eleanor Roosevelt (Gillian Anderson) was a great pioneer, an activist who would influence her husband Franklin Delano Roosevelt on human rights; in particular, she played a key role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She also holds press conferences, writes for a newspaper and has a radio column. It was she who spoke on national radio to speak to Americans during the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. On a more intimate level, we also remember that Eleanor Roosevelt fell in love with journalist Lorena Hickock, with whom she was having an affair. “She lives this incredibly modern double life in the White House,” notes Martine Delvaux.

According to Valérie Beaudoin, associate researcher at the Observatory on the United States at UQAM’s Raoul-Dandurand Chair, the historical background is important, even if the series lacks a bit of depth. The director shows the influence of these three first ladies on presidential politics. “These are three strong women who don’t listen to the President’s advisers because they want to advance important causes. Without them, American life would have been different and less progressive. They have their place in American history because they were at the forefront, and we tend to forget that,” she says.

It was the story of Betty Ford (Michelle Pfeiffer) that intrigued her the most. “She did a lot for equality and women’s rights in a 1975 Republican government. She spoke about abortion, but also about the importance of mammograms after breast cancer, she had not concealed anything about his health. She spoke openly about her problems with alcohol use and drug addiction because she wanted real transparency in this post-Nixon era,” analyzes Valérie Beaudoin.

The past to understand the future


PHOTO JOEL C RYAN, ASSOCIATED PRESS ARCHIVES

Viola Davis, Gillian Anderson and Michelle Pfeiffer in London at the launch of Paramount+ on June 20th

The First Lady also recalls the past of these three women, which allows us to better understand their motivations. “We understand why Michelle Obama got involved in healthcare. His father was ill, not well insured and suffered as a result. She has also been a victim of ordinary racism throughout her life, which has shaped her personality,” says Valérie Beaudoin.

“Why are we becoming feminists? What role does feminism play? The answer is there, at three different times, for different reasons, for world peace, for women’s rights, for refugee relief, for sexual freedom, you name it, there’s always meaning to the feminist struggle and the show shows it well. They were all at the forefront and that’s what makes this series inspiring,” says Martine Delvaux.

reviews, good and bad


PHOTO JACKSON LEE DAVIS SUPPLIED BY SHOWTIME

Viola Davis plays Michelle Obama on the show The First Lady.

Critics slammed the performance of actress Viola Davis, who plays Michelle Obama. “It sucks. She put on too much, she didn’t have to do the same to look like Michelle Obama, it’s too cartoony,” says Valérie Beaudoin. The First Lady remains a series to watch because it has many qualities.

“The aesthetics of Susanne Bier, the care of the sets and above all to see that these women disturb with their modernity. There’s a community around these three First Ladies, mutual aid, it’s a model of solidarity between women. They question conventions and reinvent the world. »

The First Lady will be broadcast on Crave.

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