TV series ‘The First Lady’ depicts the lives of three first ladies : The DONG-A ILBO


‘The First Lady,’ exclusively released on a streaming platform Watcha, depicts the lives of the First Ladies, Eleanor Roosevelt, Betty Ford, and Michelle Obama, each starred by Gillian Anderson, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Viola Davis. Even though the three First Ladies lived in the White House in different time periods—1930s, 1970s, and 2010s, respectively—, the role of the First Lady was clear: “Keep low profile, and only present yourself as a beautiful and kind woman .” Nevertheless, Eleanor, Betty, and Michelle did not obediently follow the demand, but they pioneered their own way in the White House.

Rather than following the chronological order, the series was edited using a cross-cutting technique by switching back and forth between different timelines by 10 different themes, including ‘White House,’ ‘Proposal,’ and ‘Destruction.’

The series depicts the lives of the three women, covering their childhood, first encounter with their husbands, entry into the White House, and lives after retirement, by jumping among three different timelines; they are the stories that are similar but different at the same time. Although the stories are based on historical facts, conversations and some of the circumstances are fictitious.

If the president is the ‘center of the White House,’ the First Lady is the ‘conscience of the White House.’ This is because the First Ladies were true to their convictions about racial discrimination, the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and the legalization of same-sex marriage, which are political issues that the presidents often feel careful not to speak loud about. The show’s description of Betty Ford, who is less known compared to Eleanor Roosebelt and Michelle Obama, is particularly interesting. It did a good work in closely depicting Betty Ford, who was seemingly an ironclad woman, by conveying both public nature of the first lady but also her weakness as an individual. For example, the show is devoted to portraying Betty’s candor about her breast cancer and hard work to raise public awareness of women’s diseases, as well as her advocacy for ERA passage, but it never misses on depicting her suffering depression and struggle with alcohol dependence. The series was produced by Susanne Bier, a Danish filmmaker who is known for her films In a Better World and Bird Box, whose delicate eye for detail and design is easily noticed.

Ji-Hoon Lee easyhoon@donga.com

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