Tiny Jane Horrocks -- or at least she seems tiny compared with everyone else in the cast -- turns in a bravura performance in "The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard," a five-part "Masterpiece Theatre" miniseries beginning Sunday.
What's amazing about this Mrs. Prit-chard (accent on the second syllable)?
One day, she's the every-vegetable-in-its-place manager of a supermarket in small-town England. Months later, she's prime minister of Britain. And that's the only implausible note in the entire miniseries.
"The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard" made its British debut last year, just weeks after Tony Blair announced he would be stepping down as prime minister. It airs here as various presidential campaigns heat up with a possible female front-runner.
Ros Pritchard has nothing in common with these professional politicians. She's a not-so-average wife and mother fed up with the usual candidates for Parliament.
"I can do better than that," she thinks, and suddenly has a groundswell of support. Her newly formed Purple Democratic Alliance party wins the majority, and she finds herself leading the country -- or, as the opposition claims, being led by members of her Cabinet.
As a newcomer to 10 Downing Street, Mrs. Pritchard has much to get used to. A personal secretary joined at the hip. A schedule that keeps her shuffling from one very important meeting to another in 15-minute increments. Scant time to spend with her husband, played by Steven Mackintosh, and two daughters.
And the international crises never end. Within minutes of becoming prime minister, Mrs. Pritchard must contend with a military emergency in the Middle East. (She's anti-Bush, by the way; also anti-monarchy.)
Mrs. Pritchard is an empathetic, caring leader. She can afford to be, because her Cabinet members, almost all female, are professional politicians who know how to work the system. This is especially true of Janet McTeer as Catherine Walker, a high-ranking member of another party who defects to the Purple Alliance.
Walker is the opposite of Pritchard: tall, single, painfully career-minded. Her affair with a much younger speechwriter is one of several soap opera elements that spice up the drama.
This is a miniseries that gets better with each episode and every crisis.
Mrs. Pritchard may be perfect, but not the people around her. Her older daughter hates not having an identity of her own. Her husband has a secret that could harm her politically. Her party members, many of them political newcomers too, aren't immune from scandal or bad judgment.
Watching Mrs. Pritchard evolve from naive do-gooder to savvy head of state, with salty language to match, will test the viewer's political beliefs as well.
Will you see her as becoming corrupted or learning how to best navigate political waters?
One warning: As an outsider from West Yorkshire, Mrs. Pritchard doesn't speak in easy-to-understand BBC English. Be prepared not to understand everything she says, although her intent will always be clear.
then 9 to 10 p.m. on subsequent Sundays through Nov. 18