Viola Davis, Michelle Pfeiffer and Gillian Anderson portray a much more realistic, and much less sugar-coated view of the lives of some of the most significant First Ladies of the United States. The show switches back and forth between Michelle Obama ( Davis), Eleanor Roosevelt ( Anderson) and Betty Ford’s ( Pfeiffer) tenures as First Lady, highlighting their experiences in the White House, but also outside of their marriages and husbands.
The First Lady provides an intimate look at the personal lives of these First Ladies, touching on subjects that have yet to be widely discussed or broadcast. Davis, alongside O-T Fagbnele (Barack Obama) sheds insight into the difficulties that Michelle Obama faced while acclimating to life in the White House. This includes her efforts to avoid becoming a “glorified hostess” and how to work, not as an accessory to her husband but as his equal. This included a few critiques of the former President Obama himself, and his efforts to remain a good husband while functioning as a good president, and learning about Obama’s role in his administration as well.
An interesting aspect of Obama’s portrayal was the way in which the show tackled her approach toward the significance of her husband’s identity as the first Black president. They noted her concern for her husband and children, and their safety. It traces their family’s experience back to when the couple first met, and follows their journey to the White House.
Betty Ford’s portrayal exemplifies her role in the White House, and how various actors tried to prevent her from having such an active voice. It shows how she worked hard to establish herself amongst those actors.It portrays Ford’s journey through her first marriage and into her second, as well as her work along the way as she entered the White House under uncertain circumstances.
Anderson gives an interesting performance of Eleanor Roosevelt as she was one of the most controversial yet powerful First Ladies. The show not only shows her efforts to be more involved with her husband’s administration, but her personal aversions to the sexism displayed from many of the authority figures in that administration.
These various stories highlight the experiences of people who have been in the direct public spotlight for decades, but haven’t really been examined as a viable perspective to the historical events they take part in. The series, directed by Susanne Bier, is airing on Showtime, with new episodes every Sunday.