Synopsis: “She’s got people talking!” That’s what everyone says about Ros Pritchard, the successful supermarket manager and mother who ignites a political firestorm when she stands for Parliament and ends up winning the general election. Running on little more than charm, honesty, and common sense, Ros knows next to nothing about politics. ill her passion and determination be enough to guide her as Prime Minister?
Jane Horrocks (Little Voice, Absolutely Fabulous) delivers a warm, winning performance as an ordinary woman who goes to extraordinary lengths to bring politics back to the people. She relocates Parliament to make it more accessible to the masses. She introduces “No Cars Wednesday” to tackle global warming. At the same time, she juggles the needs and demands of her increasingly frustrated family, which she fears is slipping away from her. With humor and charm, The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard takes a bold unflinching look at the modern political process – and the toll it takes on our leaders and their loved ones.
eyelights: the strong female characters. Jane Horrocks. Janet McTeer.
eyesores: the implausibility of some developments.
There was a time when I used to grab everything that came my way at the local library. I would compulsively request everything I could find on their website. I wouldn’t watch all of it, naturally, and in fact I frequently returned quite a few titles because I was overwhelmed.
It’s a practice that I stopped a few years ago, as life got busier and I simply had to be choosier. But it’s a good thing that I went a bit wild with my library card when I did, or else I would have missed out on a lot of esoteric or random titles that are really just too good to miss.
One of those is ‘The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard’.
Produced for the BBC in 2006, it tells the story of a grocery store manager who decides to present herself as a local candidate after seeing the other parties’ candidates get into a fight outside her store. Disgusted by their attitudes, she decides to make a statement.
However, she captures the imaginations of countless people who decide to not only back her, but join her in bringing a new perspective to Whitehall. Before she can blink, she is leading a new party, and picking up defectors from her rivals, to eventually become Prime Minister.
‘The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard’ is a vision of a sort of common sense revolution. It was created by Jane Featherstone after realizing that she didn’t feel like voting because all of the candidates were as bad as the other. She wanted to write the story of someone making that point.
The 6-part mini-series is not for the deepest cynics however: it taps into the fantasies of the commoner who would like to hear their voice rise above the usual rhetoric and negativity from our so-called leaders. It gives them the hero they wish they had and wish they were.
What’s interesting about the show is that it balances this optimism and idealism with real-world scenarios, to show us what this type of grounded and honest everyperson would do in real-world situations – especially in light of the fact that she’s entirely new to the world of politics.
How does she deal with the incredible pressure? How does this newfound spotlight affect her and her family? How does she deal with various crises? In what way is Britain’s diplomacy influenced by her straight-shooter approach? And can she survive the political climate?
These are all issues that are addressed to various degrees and with varying levels of success, but in each case it’s always fascinating to watch someone do things differently. Instead of the cutthroat approach of Francis Urquhart, we’re seeing sincerity and civility at work.
That’s not to say that Rosamund Pritchard is perfect. Hardly. But she means well, and she takes responsibility for her actions and those of the people around her. Plus which she’s persistent, confident and considerate of others. These qualities alone make of her a terrific folk heroine.
Jane Horrocks absolutely shines in the part. I knew nothing of her, even though she’s a staple of British television, having starred in ‘Absolutely Fabulous’ and countless other series, but was immediately impressed with the way she played the part, with confidence and intelligence.
Not only was she able to convey the qualities that inspired so many people to join Pritchard’s campaign, but she is also able to cover the whole spectrum. There’s this jaw-dropping moment towards the end, when her devastation is etched in her face; I’ve rarely seen it this real.
It’s a brilliant moment.
Most of the cast is very good, but another standout is Janet McTeer as Catherine Walker, a Tory MP who crossed the floor to become one of Pritchard’s biggest strategists and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. She is sharp and a powerhouse (which, to me, makes her quite alluring).
Although the character has built a fortress around her heart, McTeer manages to convey so much with a mere look; we always know where Walker stands. But McTeer is also able to crossover when Walker is wounded and make it look credible; she humanizes her without hobbling her.
Another excellent performance comes from Carey Mulligan as Pritchard’s eldest daughter. In her hands, Emily initially comes off as extremely intelligent and emotionally mature. Unfortunately, as the series progresses Emily does all sorts of stupid reactionary stuff – no doubt to add drama.
Still, Mulligan is fantastic throughout.
What I find appealing is that the series focuses on female characters, with most of Pritchard’s MPs being women. This is a huge departure from most shows, let alone political ones, and it is thrilling to see so many women in positions of power, (mostly) completely in control.
It’s the men who come off as the weak links in this series, which some might decry, but which I think is perfectly fair given that the opposite is usually true. Walker, for instance, has a relationship with an emotionally needy assistant who can’t accept her distance.
But Pritchard’s spouse is the weakest of the lot, being her Achilles’ heel. He’s not only incapable of dealing with the demands of her work, but he has skeletons in his closet which frequently cause embarrassment or risk derailing her career; it leaves her quite vulnerable.
The most stunning development is the show’s ambiguous ending, which finds Pritchard having to decide what to do with her spouse in order to save face and/or her career. Personally, I cheered when it ended inconclusively, because it was bold; it could mean almost anything.
I have no idea if the show was intended to last more than one series or if this was a deliberate move, but I absolutely loved it. Instead of making Pritchard seem either weak or callous (the only two possible conclusions people would have made) and undoing her, they left us to imagine it.
It’s a much better approach than the way they tried to resolve some of the other messes Pritchard finds herself in, both because of others’ stupidity and her own inexperience. Some of the questions that the show brings to the table are worth pondering but shouldn’t find such easy answers.
The hardest of them all is the moral question of whether Pritchard should compromise her ideals for the good of the country, and whether or not that is a slippery slope into becoming exactly that which she initially revolted against. Given her pledge to remain honest, it’s a tough choice.
The series stretches the boundaries of credulity at times and cuts corners in some areas, not exploring them as fully as one might want, but I am still pleased with this fresh perspective on an all too familiar setting and story. Some might call it naïve, but I’d merely call it idealistic.
That’s not always a bad thing – especially in fiction, where it can inspire. If anything, I’m absolutely thrilled to see such strong female characters, and the performances to back them up. And it’s nice to see an imperfect leader who means well, tries hard and does it with dignity.
The world could do with more Mrs. Pritchards.
Dates of viewings: July 20-23, 2015