Sienna Miller is an actor on the move. While her film credits date back to 2001 with roles in Layer Cake, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, and as Warhol muse Edie Sedgwick in Factory Girl, the last five years have seen her attached to increasingly higher profile projects, including Best Picture-nominated American Sniper and the acclaimed drama Foxcatcher, as well as a stint on Broadway as Sally Bowles in the revival of Cabaret. She then delivered a knockout, should-have-been-Oscar-nominated performance in the adventure epic The Lost City of Z, and has already given one of this year’s best performances in the underrated American Woman, as a Pennsylvania mother trying to piece her life together after a tragedy. One of the great joys of watching Miller’s performances these recent years is seeing just how deep she's able to go into her characters. Ironically, it may be this innate ability to disappear into her roles thats prevented her from getting the notice she deserves.
In a perfect world, Showtime's high-profile limited series The Loudest Voice would be the project that changes all of that. Based on Gabriel Sherman’s book of the same name, the series chronicles the rise and fall of FOX News chairman Roger Ailes over the course of three decades. Miller plays Beth Ailes, Roger’s doting wife who is as committed to her husband as she is to her conservative values. While much has been made of Miller's physical transformation for the role (like co-star Russell Crowe, she's nearly unrecognizable under all those prosthetics and makeup), the reality is that she's criminally under utilized in the series.
Four episodes in, Beth finally gets to step up as a bit more of a power player, with Roger buying their local newspaper for her to oversee and give a more conservative voice. But just as Beth steps forward, the series turns towards Naomi Watts as Gretchen Carlson, whose accusations of sexual harassment will ultimately bring Ailes down, casting Beth in the role of spurned women. Most of the time, the show can only find room for Beth in the most obvious of places: the kitchen, on Roger’s arm at functions, or waiting up late at night to deliver a pep talk to her ever-frustrated husband. In one of the more hilariously unexpected elements of the series, Beth displays a curious interest in the film adaptation of Hello, Dolly! and literally organizes meetings to teach the townsfolk about the history of when Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau came to town.
While Miller shines in each of these scenes, the show doesn’t give her nearly enough to do. Watching The Loudest Voice, I can’t help but wish the show could have taken a page out of of FX’s Fosse/Verdon’s book with how that series made room alongside the more famous Bob Fosse for his wife Gwen Verdon. By the end of that series, Verdon (played by Michelle Williams) was the main attraction. It's not like the material isn't there -- there's lots of fertile ground, whether you see Beth Ailes as a villian, a wife questioning her allegiance to her eroding husband, or as a woman doubling down on her own abhorrent politics. Any of these options or others would have made this story richer and more interesting. And it wouldn’t have left a talent like Sienna Miller all dressed up with nowhere to go.
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Stephen Hladik is a freelance culture writer and actor. You can follow him on Twitter @stephen_hladik