“I have to brag here,” beamed A+E Networks programming president Rob Sharenow at a recent press conference for Lifetime’s original film Patsy & Loretta (Saturday, Oct. 19 at 8pm ET/PT). “I’m told that Loretta Lynn herself has seen the movie and loved it.”
With a seal of approval like that, you don’t necessarily need our raves about this enjoyable and emotional biopic, but we’ll echo Lynn’s sentiment anyway. This film from director Callie Khouri (creator of the series Nashville) and writer Angelina Burnett is moving and captivating from the start as it chronicles the short but impactful friendship between country music legends Patsy Cline (Megan Hilty, Smash, The Good Wife) and Loretta Lynn (Broadway star Jessie Mueller), and is one of the more memorable Lifetime movies we’ve seen in a while.
An effective combination of real-life drama with a few more fanciful elements here and there, the film re-creates and more fully delves into the events behind how, despite their differences, Cline befriended and influenced Lynn, eventually helping her become a star in her own right — an act that Lynn herself would pay forward as she later befriended and helped guide other women in the business.
Ultimately, Patsy and Loretta’s friendship was brief — cut tragically short when Cline perished in a plane crash at the age of 30 — but it clearly was a heartfelt one, and Khouri’s film details just how close the friends were.
“I love telling stories about women that are different,” Khouri explained, “and still find a way to have a friendship that obviously is as deep and lasting as — well, unfortunately, this wasn’t as long-lasting as it should have been. But I just love telling those stories, because I have a lot of those kind of friendships with women that are very different than me.”
Hilty and Mueller are both superb as these particular different women, and they instantly draw the viewer in as the music icons. Hilty captures Cline’s interesting mix of strength, brashness, wit and a sensitivity perhaps only fully seen by family and friends like Lynn. It’s clear that Cline’s toughness must have rubbed off on Lynn and further informed the work she was already doing in writing songs that directly spoke to women, and Mueller effectively portrays Lynn’s growth from reticence into confidence once she is in Cline’s orbit.
This friendship between women is a nice counterpoint to Hilty’s breakout TV project, the drama Smash (2012-13), which featured two women competing with one another.
“While I am incredibly grateful for Smash,” Hilty offered, “and everything that came with that show — I miss it every day — it is a breath of fresh air to work on something that shows the wonderful aspects of female friendship. … And I feel like [that’s] so rarely done, and I’m so proud to be a part of something now that is showcasing that women don’t have to be at war with each other to be interesting.”
“I didn’t know about their friendship,” said Mueller. “I guess I just sort of assumed — I mean, it makes sense that they would’ve known each other, but I didn’t know — because I feel like in the public eye, I feel like we know about each lady and each of their careers. You know, there have been films made about each woman’s career, but what attracted me to the film was the fact that it was really about the friendship.”
Not only are Hilty and Mueller’s acting and appearance as the artists gripping and pretty spot-on, but, as you would expect from these accomplished singers, they also do justice to a few of Patsy and Loretta’s famous songs, like Lynn’s “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl” and “This Haunted House,” and Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces” and “Crazy.” Both women were thrilled at the chance to perform these memorable tunes.
“Thankfully, there’s a lot of singing in the movie,” said Hilty, “and it was remarkable how much of the songs were used. I’ve been a part of things where the music is trimmed down a bit, I don’t know why. But it’s so wonderful to see these songs with the length that we have in this film. This is some of the greatest music ever written. So, it was quite an honor to get to take a crack at it.”
“And it was one of the first things we did in the process,” Mueller added. “We got into the recording studio very early on with our music producer, Tim Lauer.
“It was so fun to do that research and just kind of do a deep dive into these ladies’ canons, because they were so great and so groundbreaking. I think they’re still groundbreaking now, [but] especially at the time, country music was such a boys’ club, and they were really writing or choosing songs that were about things that mattered to them … about what they were feeling and what they were thinking and what their lives were like. … I think people were attracted to their authenticity.”
Given that authenticity, it could be a challenge for someone portraying the legends to convey their realness without simply doing an impression of Cline or Lynn.
“We are playing actual people,” Hilty offered, “but I myself am not a mimic, otherwise I’d make a lot more money than I do. But it also has to be real, so it is a delicate balance of definitely going in that direction but keeping your voice your own. Otherwise, it’s horribly distracting.
“I grew up knowing ‘Crazy’ and ‘Walkin’ After Midnight’ and many other songs” Hilty continued. “But I never looked at them the way that I did when I started doing the research for this film. They’re so lyrically driven, all of these incredible songs, which is one of the reasons why those songs touched so many people. The other is, of course, Patsy Cline’s iconic voice and styling.”
Mueller said, “I’m the kind of person where there’s a couple voices for me that exist on this plane and this earth that I’m just like — I don’t know, that voice does something to me. I feel it in the core of my being. And now Loretta is one of those voices. But it wasn’t really until I started this project that I just started finding everything I could. And it was a total joy.”