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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

TV Show Review: Dolley Madison: America's First Lady

Dolley Madison: America’s First Lady
American Experience Series

90 mins
March 1, 2010

Source: Received for Preview from WGBH
“Dolley Madison lived through the two wars that established the U.S., was friends with the first 12 Presidents, and watched America evolve from a struggling young republic to the first modern democracy in the world. She was nicknamed “Queen Dolley,” and when she died in 1849 at the age of 81 — one of the last remaining members of the founding generation — Washington City honored her with the largest state funeral the capital had ever seen for a woman.” (from PBS.com)
I first heard about Dolley Madison in my sophomore year in high school (which was only almost 7 years ago). I had to write a research paper about a famous American and I have no idea what drew me to her. As I read about her, I realized just how brave she was and all of the contributions she gave to this fledgling country. I was so impressed by her. I tried to learn everything I could about her. If anyone is wondering about my screen name/email address – yes, it was inspired by Dolley Madison! When I was contacted by Jen from WGBH about receiving a preview of this episode, well, you can imagine how excited I was!

This episode was the kick off episode to celebrate Women’s History Month and I’m not sure that they could have picked a better woman to spotlight. She isn’t as well known as some of the other famous female contributors to our country’s history, but she was definitely influential. There were so many things that I loved about this episode – I’m just going to highlight a few of them.

• The actress who plays Dolley (Eve Best) looked almost perfect for the role and I really felt that she was Mrs. Madison. My only critique, and it was a funny one, was that in the movie they quoted some lines which described Dolley as having “jet black hair” and they you see Dolley, and she has a medium brown. But everything else was lovely. Jefferson Mays, who plays James Madison, looked a spitting image of the 4th President.

• The lines said by the characters are all taken from letters or other primary sources available. I think that this is awesome because you get to hear the opinions and actual words that these people said and thought at that time. They really don’t put words in people’s mouths! The episode juxtaposes the characters speaking historical words with the discussions of historical experts.

• The costumes and settings were gorgeous! It is clear that a lot of time was spent on clothing the characters. Dolley was known for her outfits and the costume designer lived up to my expectations.

I only have one critique about this episode. The names and titles of the experts were not provided. I do not doubt that they experts, but being an interested party I would like to know who they are.

There are many additional features and information that you can find on The American Experience website. This episode will be available for purchase April 13, 2010. I am unaware at this point if it will be reaired on television, I would check your local listings. In the meantime you can watch this interesting video about the costuming of the show.


Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. I loved this special. Dolley is tied with Abigal Adams as my favorite first lady. She was absolutely original and intelligent.

    The actors who played both Dolley and James were perfect! They completely embodied their historic counterparts.

  2. Thank you - I am sorry I missed this.

  3. When the episode aired on PBS the names of the scholars and historians appeared at the bottom of the screen. Great film!

  4. Skinnyfat - thanks for that knowledge! I saw only the preview press release, so I'm happy that my only critique was remedied!

  5. Keeping Dolley Alive!

  6. Oh how cool! What an interesting thing to learn about you as well. I think this is still available on comcast on demand. I will definitely check it out. Great review Heather.

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  8. Tony Award Winning Actors Eve Best (Dolley) and Jefferson Mays (James Madison) were full of wonderful energy - bringing great humanity to their roles. One felt as if they knew and cared for them both by the end of the episode. Additional viewing treats were the correspondences between friends and family being brought to life by the other character actors. These performances were full of great humor and spirit. I will catch a rerun just to see these performances again, along with the marvelous direction, production values, costuming, and sets. Really well done.


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