Broad in scope and large in ambition, “A Century of Women” is filled with good intentions and wrong turns. If a series of fictional segments threatens to drown the production, the overall thoroughness, intelligence and compelling nature of the subject keep “Women” floating, though not always smoothly.
The first two hours of this six-hour history of women in the 20th century focus on the changing role of women in the workplace and women in the home. Its whole is not always as interesting as its parts, and most of its parts are glossed over too quickly.
There is much history and sociology to be covered here; two world wars, a depression, the baby boom, suburban expansion, the ’60s and the birth of feminism and the growth of civil rights movements have all effected powerful shifts and redefinitions of a woman’s place and a woman’s role. “Women” spreads itself too thin by valiantly attempting to cover all of it. Which, given the passion that infuses these two hours, is understandable. But between its eagerness to touch so many bases, and its politically correct insistence on multi-culturalism along the way, what should feel like an ineluctable march down the highway — a crooked highway, perhaps, but still a route with definite direction — instead feels like a series of detours that never quite get back to the main road.
At the same time, “Women” makes the mistake of trying to unite its detours and personalize the complexity of its journey by using the transitional story-telling device of a family reunion.
Four generations of women in a fictional family gather at the home of the matriarch (performed wonderfully by Teresa Wright). As issues and incidents arise, the show cuts back into the documentary. Nicely written and earnestly played as these scenes are, they merely get in the way, cutting the flow of the documentary rather than smoothing it.
Through diaries, film clips and photographs, the first episode introduces viewers to some fascinating women and important events: Pauline Newman, who survived the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire at the turn of the century to become a tireless crusader against child labor and for the improvement of what were thenTurn to page 15