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Friday, 19 October 2007

PBS unfurls an 'Amazing' political race "Masterpiece Theatre: The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard"

COMIC STEPHEN COLBERT seems to be tossing his clown shoes into the ring to run in both the Democrat and Republican primaries in his native South Carolina as a candidate for the President of the United States.

"After nearly 15 minutes of soul-searching," Colbert said on his Tuesday night Comedy Central show "The Colbert Report," "I have heard the call. I am doing it."

Truth or truthiness? I think we all know the answer to that question. Yet it didn't stop TV and print news outlets across the country reporting it. Chalk it up to a slow news day, or the fact that even Colbert looked better than some of the candidates out there.

We know this makes great television for "The Colbert Report," but what if the political joker actually got on the ticket and people voted him into office?

That far-fetched idea of disenfranchised voters going for the nontraditional candidate forms the basis of "The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard," a miniseries that aired last year in Britain to poor ratings before PBS imported it here.

Despite the tepid British response, we think this is a grand series for anyone who has ever been dumbfounded by the antics of our elected officials, anyone who has ever said a howler monkey makes more sense than our president and especially for anyone who has ever shaken a fist at the tube

and said they could do a better job than these yahoos.

"The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard" answers the question: What would happen if an ordinary person of reasonable intelligence and a good helping of common sense ever made it into a high elected office?

Mrs. Ros Pritchard — played by the engaging Jane Horrocks ("Little Voice") — decides to make a point by running for Parliament. She is spurred after witnessing the two candidates acting like bullies in a schoolyard brawl.

She makes the life-altering statement that she could "do better than this lot." So she plunks down 500 pounds, gets a few fliers together and runs for office.

"I will never lie to you," she tells her supporters. "I will never mislead you."

Suddenly, both powerful and powerless women are joining her on her independent Purple Alliance platform, and the British people have found a new hero. In this fantasy, Ros not only wins a place in Parliament, she earns enough votes to become Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, her loving but less-than-perfect family is bearing the brunt of suddenly being pushed into the spotlight. To quote a cliche older than "This isn't my first rodeo," be careful of what you wish for.

Husband Ian (Steven Mackintosh) hides a horrible secret that could topple Ros' rise to power, and worse, destroy his family. Rebellious beauty Emily (Carey Mulligan) revels in being the daughter of the Prime Minister, but quickly becomes emotionally crippled by the association.

The series is billed as a comedy, and though it has a somewhat comic tone at the beginning, "Mrs. Pritchard" changes dramatically through the course of the five installments starting with the two-hour premiere and subsequent one-hour episodes thereafter.

After a giddy beginning, in which Ros transitions from an efficient, well-meaning grocery store manager, wife and mum to a powerful world leader, things turn decidedly darker.

The script by Sally Wainwright takes plenty of shots at the inefficiencies of British government, but even more at President George Bush. There's no denying where Wainwright stands as her characters rail against supporting Bush's foray into Iraq, the lack of movement by world leaders to stop global warming and the government inefficiencies that result in poor school funding and soft safety policies.

The anti-Ros is career-obsessed Catherine Walker, a high-ranking member of the Conservative Party who defects to Ros' campaign in a rare spontaneous moment. She's rewarded with the post of Deputy Prime Minister. Janet McTeer steals the show with her intense portrait of a woman who stumbles in her private life, but never in her public one.

Harsh reality keeps pounding on Ros' door until she must finally decide if staying in office is worth tossing her moral compass. In the final scene, we may be left wondering what decision she makes. In the British version, there was an epilogue that told you how it all ends. That piece of information was lacking in the review copy sent out. If it doesn't come on, you can go to my blog at on the final night, Nov. 18, where I'll reveal it.

by Susan Young

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