All the presidents’ women: 12 actresses who have played first ladies on screen

As a new US TV show casts Viola Davis as Michelle Obama and Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford, we look at the first ladies who have been given the Hollywood treatment

There has always been a fascination with first ladies, the women who share the White House with their president husbands. From their style to their politics, first ladies have long wielded power, even if historically many had to do so quietly behind the scenes, so as not to upstage their men.

The new US TV show The First Lady is set to lift the lid on what really goes on beyond the Oval Office and Rose Garden, reframing life at the White House to show it through the eyes of the women who lived through some of the biggest moments in history alongside their husbands.

Having so far cast Michelle Pfeiffer as 1970s first lady Betty Ford, Viola Davis as Michelle Obama and Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt, the show will focus on the contribution of these women to the running of the US, and their influence on their husbands and policy.

While some first ladies were content to take a back seat, many others, including Ford, Roosevelt, Obama and Hillary Clinton, were front and centre to offer their opinions and input on both political and social issues.

In the 1960s, Jackie Kennedy brought legendary and enduring glamour to the White House, making it her mission to preserve the history of the building, and presiding over a period in American politics that would forever become entwined with the Camelot mythology.

In the 1970s, president Gerald Ford's wife, Betty, went public with her alcohol and substance issues, helping to reduce stigma around the disease, and her name became synonymous with the nationwide clinics she helped establish to treat others. In the 1980s, meanwhile, Nancy Reagan famously made the anti-drugs message "just say no" her personal project.

Along with the new TV show, many actresses have portrayed first ladies on the big and small screen, with Natalie Portman scoring an Oscar nomination for her portrayal of one of the most emulated first ladies of all time in Jackie.

Scroll through the gallery for all the actresses set to play first ladies in The First Lady, as well as other stars who’ve played some of the world’s most powerful women on screen …