| 11.1°C Dublin

Edith Wilson... The first lady who ‘ruled America’

Podcast of the week: Rosamund Pike, star of Gone Girl and I Care a Lot, plays Edith Wilson in a scripted series which looks at how the first lady filled the role of her ailing husband

Close

Recent Golden Globe winner Rosamund Pike plays Edith Wilson

Recent Golden Globe winner Rosamund Pike plays Edith Wilson

Former first lady Edith Wilson

Former first lady Edith Wilson

/

Recent Golden Globe winner Rosamund Pike plays Edith Wilson

She was occasionally referred to as the first female president of the US, but Edith Wilson — first lady to President Woodrow Wilson — rejected such notions. She denied having been involved at any level of decision-making while her husband recovered from a serious stroke.

Historians have subsequently considered the extent of Edith’s powers of influence and persuasion, firm in the knowledge that in his name she fired people and vetted which policies should be introduced. She also obstructed an attempted coup by the cabinet and helped to ratify the League of Nations that her husband was finalising before his stroke.

There is even a belief that she told nobody about her husband’s condition and wouldn’t allow anyone, except his doctor, to see him (this is quite likely to be true as the doctor was Wilson’s best friend). The only known fact is that no one knows for certain what she did or did not do. Even the Edith! podcast’s makers (QCODE, best known for its erotic podcast series, Dirty Diana, and Crooked Media, the company responsible for the political series, Pod Save America) pitch it as a “scripted comedy podcast exploring the untold true-ish story of America’s secret first female president”.

Close

Former first lady Edith Wilson

Former first lady Edith Wilson

Former first lady Edith Wilson

The exclamatory title, meanwhile, is a non-too-subtle giveaway for fun and games in the corridors of power during 1919.

There are two major surprises here. The first is how irreverent it is: “He loved poetry and long walks on the beach,” recalls Edith of her husband’s preferences for nature and William Wordsworth, adding: “He was pretty racist but it was the poetry that won my heart.”

The second is how well UK actor and recent Golden Globe winner Rosamund Pike channels the lead character. Indeed, the key to the eight-part series’ success is in the acting and the portrayals of sideline figures. Pike’s Edith comes across as tough and waspish: “I was not the first female president, I was a patriot who helped the country stay together while the president took… a little nap”. Clark Gregg, a West Wing alumnus, briefly outlines a genial if burdened president: “Waging a war against half the globe is really stressful for me… I won a war — me, a man who has never been punched!” and Stephen Root takes the proverbial biscuit as vice-presdent Thomas Marshall (whose fondness for a sherry or three further substantiates Edith’s involvement in the affairs of state).

Deviating somewhat from the usual fare you might associate with historical-based podcasts, in pre-internet days Edith! would have been called a radio drama. It is much more sophisticated and contemporary than that, however. Co-written by Travis Helwig and Gonzalo Cordova, whose combined credits include scripting a couple of Academy Awards shows — Adam Ruins Everything, and Jimmy Kimmel Live!, it veers more towards the quickfire and painfully insightful style of Veep and The West Wing. Funny/sober lines abound — one of the more cutting is: “We don’t let thousands of foreigners get slaughtered unless it’s in America’s best interests.” And Edith’s aversion to first lady duties such as hosting afternoon tea parties is deftly delivered. Sound design, too, is shrewd, with little or no melodramatic intrusions.

New episodes are released each Thursday.

 

Video of the Day


Most Watched





Privacy