Politics is like abstract art because those outside of politics, like abstract art, always think they can do better than the pros. In The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard, a supermarket manager, Ros Pritchard is inspired to dive into politics after witnessing a particularly violent and embarrassing fist fight between a conservative candidate and his liberal opponent. Frustrated by the ugly bipartisan sniping, Ros decides to stand for Parliament, winning the general election, and improbably succeeding Tony Blair as Great Britain’s second woman prime minister. Mrs. Pritchard doesn’t have much time to catch her breath as leading one of the leading democracies in the world takes a toll on her family, as she tries to navigate through the circuitous maze of British politics, with little-to-no political know-how or savvy.
Is the conceit far-fetched. You bet. And it’s a lot to ask of viewers to suspend their disbelief and get behind such a plot. But once you do, then The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard does have considerable charms, despite its moments of illogic. The reason why all this works in spite of itself, is that the show is charming and extremely idealistic even though a subject as cynical as politics drive the plots of the episodes. Audiences will rally behind the title character because she’s likable, sympathetic, and yeoman-like in her work ethic to get the job done right.
The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard feels a bit like a Sunday evening show – an hour-long drama with moments of humor. Earnest and warm-hearted, this is the kind of show that feels put together by a focus group, hoping to appeal to the largest, most middle-of-the-road audience as possible. As the show progresses through its six hour-long episodes, the storylines do get darker and more complicated, ending on a satisfying, if slightly abrupt finale.
And even if the writing does dip at times, the show boasts one of the most capable casts in British drama, and the writers couldn’t have asked for a more appealing star than Jane Horrocks, the wonderful comedienne known primarily as the dim-witted assistant, Bubble on Jennifer Saunders’ sitcom Absolutely Fabulous. She shakes off any shades of Bubble (except for her distinct Lancashire accent), to play Ros Pritchard, the clever, dynamic, and dogged PM, that will remind some American viewers of Amy Poehler’s supernaturally-competent public servant, Leslie Knope from NBC’s Parks and Recreation. Horrocks is supported by some incredible costars, including Oscar-nominee, Janet Teer, who plays Catherine, her one-time rival, who becomes her closest ally; Carey Mulligan, who does spoiled insolence well, as Ros’ troubled daughter; and a scene-stealing Jodhi May as Ros’ perfect, unflappable advisor. Comediennes Sally Phillips (One Smack Pony, Miranda, Jam & Jerusalem) and Meera Syal (Goodness, Gracious, Me and The Kumars at No. 42) also are on hand, doing personable work in smaller roles.
What’s interesting about The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard is that even though it’s a show about politics, there is very little, in terms of actual political examination going on – this could be to ensure that neither liberal nor conservative viewers will be offended. But the result is a at-times, toothless show. The few moments when the writers are brave enough to skewer Tony Blair’s pro-Iraq War policies, show just how vital this show can get. Unfortunately, there isn’t nearly enough of that – instead, there are some vague, somewhat liberal points of view thrown around, and a soft-pedaled feminism that marks the proceedings. Some issues that are looked at include terrorism, illegal immigration, the EU, climate change, as well as sex scandals in politics – all of these topics could be handled with piquant stories and probing writing; instead, the show plays it safe, and there’s little beyond a superficial glance at these difficult and complex concepts.
Still, despite the show’s shortcomings, it’s still imminently watchable because of Horrocks’ and her likable and relatable character. It Aaron Sorkin ever wants to do a show like this, he’d do well to give Horrocks a call, because her graceful performance lifts even the most mediocre of scripts.