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Paul Whitington's top TV picks: Mrs America, The Great Wall and Frozen 2

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Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly

Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly

BBC/FX/Sabrina Lantos

Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman as Theo and Mrs Barbour in a scene from The Goldfinch

Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman as Theo and Mrs Barbour in a scene from The Goldfinch

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Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly

In the early 1970s, a feminist movement led by Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan was on the verge of pushing landmark legislation through congress. The Equal Rights Amendment would end discrimination on the basis of sex in America, where women were paid less, under-represented in third level education, invisible in politics and effectively barred from progress in most professions. The amendment seemed like a slam-dunk, but in its way stood a formidable opponent.

Created by Dahvi Waller, who also worked on Mad Men, Mrs America could be seen as a what-happened-next riposte to that series, which ended as the entitled masculinity of Don Draper and co was being threatened by the counterculture. And though feminists like Steinem (Rose Byrne), Friedan (Tracey Ullman) and Jill Ruckelshaus (Elizabeth Banks) feature prominently, the show's real star is Phyllis Schlafly, a formidable nay-sayer played with imperious flair by Cate Blanchett.

The clever and talented wife of an Illinois lawyer, Phyllis was a feminist in all but name herself, having run for congress and written bestselling political polemics before emerging as an outspoken opponent of the equal rights campaign. Phyllis thought that dealing with difficult men was all part of a day's work, and that those who moaned about equal rights were just making excuses for their own laziness. She opposed abortion, feminism, and was also an uncompromising Cold War warrior.

Opponents like Steinem pointed out the ironies of this liberated, dynamic woman posing as a suburban housewife, but were wrong to underestimate Schlafly, who succeeded in mobilising what would later be called 'the moral majority' to oppose the calls for progress and stymie attempts to pass the amendment. This decade-long battle for the soul of American womanhood is vividly dramatised in Mrs America, which implies that in a way both sides won. Feminists did succeed in radically changing America, but Phyllis Schlafly's campaign helped kick-start the neo-conservative movement that would give us Reagan, Gingrich and Trump.

Films of the week

Glassland

Tonight, TG4, 10.05pm

Gerard Barrett's gritty drama stars Jack Reynor as a young Dublin taxi driver desperate to help his alcoholic mother stop drinking. With Toni Collette, Will Poulter, Michael Smiley.

The Great Wall

Sunday, Channel 4, 9pm

Action fantasy starring Matt Damon as an 11th-century mercenary who goes to China to find out how to make gunpowder and gets mixed up in an alien invasion. With Willem Dafoe.

Frozen 2

Monday, Sky Premiere, 6pm

Elsa is now Queen of Arendelle, but when a mysterious voice draws her into the Enchanted Forest, dark forces are unleashed. With the voices of Kristen Bell, Idina Menzel, Josh Gad.

The Snowman

Wednesday, RTÉ1, 9.35pm

Thriller starring Michael Fassbender as Norwegian detective Harry Hole, who investigates the murders of women targeted by a killer whose calling card is a snowman. With Rebecca Ferguson.

The Goldfinch

Thursday, Sky Premiere, 10pm

In this uneven adaptation of Donna Tartt's novel, a teenage boy escapes a terror attack on a New York art gallery but is plagued by survivor guilt. With Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman (below).

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Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman as Theo and Mrs Barbour in a scene from The Goldfinch

Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman as Theo and Mrs Barbour in a scene from The Goldfinch

Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman as Theo and Mrs Barbour in a scene from The Goldfinch

Rush

Friday, BBC1, 11.15pm

Ron Howard's entertaining drama recreates the epic tussle between drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda that enthralled fans during the 1976 Formula 1 season. With Chris Hemsworth.

Best sport

Football

Live Premier League

Today, Sky Main Event, 2.30pm

Triple Bill

A triple bill of Premier League action begins with Leicester versus Crystal Palace, then it’s Wolves versus Arsenal, and Chelsea v Watford.

Racing

RTÉ Racing

Sunday, RTÉ2, 5pm

Two meets

Plenty of action this afternoon from meets in Cork and at Fairyhouse, with Hugh Cahill joined by Jane Mangan and Ted Walsh for live coverage.

Football

MOTD Live

Sunday BBC1, 6.35pm

City on the road

Southampton welcome Manchester City to St Mary’s more in hope than expectation, having been beaten by them seven times in a row.

TV picks

Comedy

Socially Distant

Sunday, RTÉ1, 10.35pm

How not to get along

New comedy shot during lockdown and telling the story of a dysfunctional family trying to arrange a surprise party as the pandemic hits.

Documentary

Pluto

Monday, BBC2, 9pm

Back from the dead

Long presumed an arid wilderness, Pluto has been revealed by satellite images as an active world with a nitrogen glacier and an active volcano.

Drama

Yellowstone

Tuesday, RTÉ2, 9pm

Ranching dynasty

New drama starring Kevin Costner as the patriarch of a Wyoming ranching dynasty whose massive property is threatened by progress.

Weekend Magazine


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