Alternate History

The First Lady (1992 film) (Napoleon's World)

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The First Lady is a 1992 American political thriller film directed by Rick Tisch and starring John Cusack, Jane Dancy, Richard Gere, Jack Germaine, Jeff Goldblum, Donald Sutherland and Paul Bollen. It was based off of the 1986 novel Mrs. Macbeth (released as President Macbeth in Europe and Oceania), concerning a White House staffer investigating the recent assassination of an unpopular President, and was a critical and commercial success.




After Donald Rumsfeld's Mrs. Macbeth was published in 1986, Dooley Brothers immediately sought to buy the film rights, which they did in 1988. The film then went through several rewrites to make the layered, complex political thriller more accessible to audiences. In 1990, director Rick Tisch was attached to the project and he finished his own rewrite in 1991.

Tisch immediately sought to cast a young, attractive actor as the protagonist Keenan, and was impressed by John Cusack's roles in The University and The Montgomery Files and offered him the role. Cusack accepted readily. For the role of John Woodrow, Richard Gere was "the only actor we wanted to play the part. A likable leading man who the audience would sympathize with." Germaine and Sutherland had long wanted to work with Tisch and signed up for supporting roles.

While the film was initially titled Mrs. Macbeth, Dooley Brothers decided to change the title shortly before production began because they felt that The First Lady was a more marketable title to American audiences.

Shooting began in Washington, D.C. in October 1991 and finished in January 1992. During the climactic chase scene, Cusack injured his ribcage performing his own stunt and required hospitalization.


The film was extremely well received, cited as a more approachable thriller about the Presidency than the dramatic 1990 film The Affairs of the President, and Cusack became an actor with rising star power in Hollywood thanks to his turn as the likable everyman Daniel Keenan. Jane Dancy's performance as the villainous First Lady Colleen Woodrow was lauded, and she was referred to by critic Roger Ebert as "a harrowing modern day Lady Macbeth, a horrifying portrait of a marriage gone wrong, of a manipulative spouse using power as a tool in the world of politics and in the world of sex." Many critics agreed with the decision by Tisch to keep the sexual relationship between Mrs. Woodrow and Keenan from the film, feeling that the subplot was critical to the development of the intrigue. Gere's role as the naive John Woodrow also earned accolades.

The film was a financial success, becoming the third-highest grossing film of 1992 at the US box office, and became the 8th-highest grossing film worldwide that year.

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