While Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline have both been subjects of their own biopics — 1980’s Coal Miner’s Daughter and 1985’s Sweet Dreams, respectively — Lifetime’s Patsy & Loretta is the first film to center on the country music legends’ deep, though short-lived, friendship.
The film, premiering Saturday on Lifetime, comes at a time of heightened interest in country music following Country Music, Ken Burns’ 16-hour PBS docuseries, which featured both icons.
Megan Hilty, best known for her starring role on NBC’s Smash, stars as Cline, while Jessie Mueller, who won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Carole King in Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, plays Lynn. Oscar winner Callie Khouri (Thelma & Louise, Nashville) directed from a script by Angelina Burnett. Sony Pictures Television produced the film, which was executive produced by Neil Meron.
Also on Oct. 19, Sony Pictures Television and Madison Gate Records will release Patsy & Loretta (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack). Two songs from the cast album premiere below.
As well as uniting Cline and Lynn, Patsy & Loretta unites Cline’s daughter, Julie Fudge, and Lynn’s daughter, Patsy Lynn Russell, as first-time film co-producers.
Fudge and Russell were in from the ground up. “We were able to help [the filmmakers] maneuver through this story from the family’s point of view, and I feel like they valued that and respected us as a resources,” Fudge says.
For Lifetime, the lens is on that relatability. “Working mothers still struggle with the guilt of being there for their children and careers,” says Tanya Lopez, Lifetime EVP movies, limited series and original movie acquisitions. “These women worked 300 days a year to keep food on the table and to pursue their passions, and feared that they weren’t the best mothers. Both Patsy and Julie talked about how their mothers were role models and inspired them to follow their own paths.”
“The thing that struck me always when my mom told stories about her and Patsy was the intimacy of that friendship. It was so much bigger than music business. But their friendship also changed country music,” Russell recalls of anecdotes about her namesake. Cline died tragically in a plane crash in 1963 at age 30, more than a year before Russell was born and roughly 18 months after she and Lynn met.
“When my mom first came to town, Patsy was already an established artist and my mom wasn’t part of the Nashville sound or crowd, so there was a lot of backlash, and a lot of mean and spiteful remarks being made about her and her music,” she adds. “Patsy had her back. Patsy would introduce her as, ‘You all know Loretta, my friend.’ In other words, ‘I’m the biggest thing at this party and I say she’s in.’”
As well as helping Lynn shave her legs for the first time and showing her how to walk in heels, Cline schooled Lynn on the pitfalls of being a woman in the business — the focus of one of Russell’s favorite scenes.
“Patsy [was] making sure Loretta was paid before she went onstage. Patsy was big on not getting taken advantage of. She shared that rule with my mom and my mom stood by that,” Russell says. “Patsy’s friendship gave Loretta that bit of self esteem she needed. She was breaking all kinds of rules.” (Lynn’s book about the duo, Loretta & Patsy: Friendship That Changed Country Music, comes out next spring.)
Patsy & Loretta toes the line between documentary-level truth-telling and storytelling. “We spoke a lot about making sure it was honest and focusing on what were the biggest relevancies in the story,” Fudge says. “For example, mom was in a car wreck with her brother and she’s portrayed as being the only person in the car. That’s not true, it’s a jumbled fact, but it wasn’t the most important thing.”
The scene where Lynn sneaks Cline out of the hospital after the near-fatal head-on collision for a cheeseburger is also creative license, Russell says, though she notes, “She did sneak a whole lot of food in.”
Also up for discussion is the treatment of Cline and Lynn’s respective husbands, Charlie Dick and Oliver “Doolittle” Lynn. While Fudge says her father got a hall pass with the film’s relatively benign depiction of him, Russell sings a different tune.
“They’ve got my dad looking like a total asshole — and he wasn’t,” Russell says. “It’s OK, I always say, ‘It doesn’t matter in any business you’re in someone has to be the asshole,’ and so they picked my dad.
“They were a team,” she continues. “My mom and dad were married for 48 years. Even though my dad was an alcoholic and my mom called him out on it — and I’m not saying he was the most upstanding faithful husband — they loved each other. At the end of the movie, there’s that love scene where he’s emotionally there for her, and I think that was true in real life.”
The film comes at a time of increased focus on women in country music and the difficulty they are experiencing at country radio — perhaps even more so than in Cline and Lynn’s heydays.
“Women still have to fight for their place in country music, which is absolutely amazing 50 years after these women were doing it,” Fudge says. “These women have been significant. These women have topped the charts and broken records. I do hope this movie starts some conversations.”
In the end, both Fudge and Russell agree, the film is about all women lifting each other up.
“When I saw the rough cut, I felt the warmth and I felt the camaraderie,” Fudge says. “It’s something awesome to share with women and young people: that we are capable. We can be reckoned with and we can express ourselves. I think they brought that out in each other quite a bit, and it was beneficial for all involved.”
“As my mom told me, Loretta and Patsy just made each other better,” Russell recounts. “Better wives, better mothers and better artists. She said that’s what a great friendship does.”