- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 2, 2003

“The Reagans,” forced by public opinion to move from CBS to cable’s more humble Showtime, finally aired Sunday night — relatively quietly and anticlimactically. (Showtime sent out screeners to the media on Friday, limiting opportunities to review the show in advance of airtime.)

Given all the hullabaloo surrounding the telepic’s portrayal of President Reagan, perhaps the greatest surprise of the final version is that the truly vicious portrayal is not James Brolin’s Ronald Reagan — it’s Judy Davis’ high-camp Nancy Reagan. Cross “Mommie Dearest” with Lady Macbeth, and you get some kind of a notion of the character brutalizing the poor woman underwent.

In trying to deflect the flak it was getting from conservatives after script details of “The Reagans” leaked, CBS did a lot of spinning in the press about how executives had thought they were buying a “love story.”

Yeah, and the makers of “Mommie Dearest” thought they were getting a heartwarming tale of adoption.

Judy Davis is, no question, a fine actress, but here she plays Mrs. Reagan as if she had been instructed, “Make everyone just hate you.” Nancy Davis Reagan is shown throughout as a cold, selfish, calculating, domineering woman, hateful to her children and protective of “Ronnie” mainly to assure herself of her role as first lady. She makes Hillary Rodham Clinton seem downright cuddly. Even Pat Nixon, while hardly a sympathetic character in Oliver Stone’s “Nixon,” at least had the excuse of being, in that depiction, fairly neurotic.

This hatchet job can’t even credit Mrs. Reagan with a sense of style. As first lady, she always was exquisitely groomed and dressed. Maybe it was a question of budget, but Judy Davis generally looked as if she were a middle-class suburban housewife.

“The Reagans” is hard to take seriously, except for its cruel caricature of Nancy Reagan. She, after all, is alive, alert and devoting her life to caring for her husband, who no longer even recognizes her, according to reports. The most elementary sense of decency should have held back the perpetrators of “The Reagans.”

Unfortunately, “The Reagans” is only the first salvo in what is beginning to look like an all-out Hollywood assault on the Reagan legacy. This Sunday night, Showtime rival HBO offers “Angels in America,” based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tony Kushner. Despite an esteemed director, Mike Nichols, and an all-star cast (Al Pacino, Meryl Streep and Emma Thompson), “Angels” is a diatribe, missing no opportunity to lash out at Mr. Reagan and his policies, in particular in regard to AIDS in America and its treatment — or absence thereof.

One of the characters, Louis Ironson, mocks Joe Pitt, a young lawyer conflicted over his sexuality, as “a macho Reganite” when he encounters him in a law firm men’s room. “Why you probably voted for him,” he says.

“Twice,” admits Pitt. Ironson recoils in horror.

At another point, one of the homosexual men mocks “Nancy’s AIDS groups,” saying, “Only after her own hairdresser died did she even know there were gays around.” We won’t even quote the nasty little digs made about Ron Reagan, the ballet dancer in the Reagan family.


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