As two of country music's most storied icons, Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn have both lived well-documented lives, each artist the subject of a wide variety of books, films and even songs. However, a new film from Lifetime, Patsy & Loretta, focuses on an aspect of the two artists' lives that has seldom taken center stage: their friendship with each other.

"Actually, it was a refreshing idea. Because of course we've seen Loretta's movie, Coal Miner's Daughter, where she wrote about her life and her friendship with Patsy," explains Cline's daughter, Julie Fudge. "Her friendship with Patsy, even though it was only about a year and a half, was very important to Loretta. It was very significant in her life."

Sweet Dreams, a 1985 movie based on Cline's life, more predominantly explored the singer's romantic relationships and marriage to Charlie Dick. "It focused on how she and Dad -- it was more like a love story, and how they did and didn't get along," Fudge continues, tallying up the two documentaries and one anthology that the family also worked on, all of which offer different portrayals of Cline.

"Those are all wonderful, and they're still out there, and they're still relevant, but this was a story of two friends," she says. "We've never actually told a fun story with Patsy, a relaxed, enjoyable look ... It's not a biographical story, and it takes a little bit of license here and there, but it's not anything unbelievable or unrealistic. It's two girlfriends and how they would have gotten along."

Patsy & Loretta director Callie Khouri points out that there's good reason why even avid Cline and Lynn fans might not know much about the two artists' friendship: "It was short," she says. "Because Patsy unfortunately died really early on. They'd only been friends for a little under two years, but it was something that was incredibly meaningful to Loretta."

At the time, Lynn was a young upstart whose success had quickly ramped up. Despite the momentum behind her, she was still grappling with the practical difficulties of being a celebrity, and being a woman in the male-dominated country music industry. To Lynn, a friendship with a somewhat more established female artist meant everything in that moment.

"So to have somebody like Patsy take her under her wing was a huge deal, an incredibly generous thing to do," Khouri goes on to say. "And I think it really speaks to the truth of what most women are like, especially in a business where there are so few slots left for women. I'm sure the competition was fierce. It was a town that was really set up for the men to do well. The women really had to fight."

It was impossible for Khouri to work on Patsy & Loretta without considering the current conversation surrounding women in country music, and how female artists continue to be pitted against one another. In a time when women still fight for radio airplay and spots at festivals and live gigs, solidarity -- from the formation of groups like the Highwomen and the Pistol Annies to all-female tours helmed by Miranda Lambert, Carrie Underwood, Maren Morris and more of the genre's biggest names -- remains as important as ever. A period piece set in the very early '60s, the film emphasizes how far the industry hasn't come.

"It's always disappointing to see that we're not further along. You would think, by now -- it just seems so crazy that women and minorities have to fight so hard and are still kind of the subject of so much [bias]," Khouri relates. "You just keep waiting for that day [of equality] to come, and it really seems like it's taking its sweet time. It's sad, because we're really, I'm sure, missing some brilliant talent."

Even so, Patsy & Loretta itself brings remarkable talent in the form of its co-stars, Meghan Hilty (who portrays Cline) and Jessie Mueller (who portrays Lynn). Khouri describes the two actors who play the project's lead roles as "monstrously talented" performers who even sing their own material for the film. One of the most remarkable surprises that came with her work on the project, Khouri adds, was watching Hilty and Mueller's friendship develop.

"It's weird, because in a way, they kind of embodied the characters they were playing. They were so there for each other," she relates. "There were times when I would watch them do a scene, and I would just get completely wrapped up in it. You almost forget to yell 'Cut.'"

As someone who has a lot of experience watching actors portray her mom, Fudge says that it's always difficult, at the outset of a project, to imagine the transformation the actor will make into their role.

"Much like when they did Sweet Dreams, and they had Jessica Lange as a suggestion to play Patsy -- at first, my reaction was, 'The tall, willowy blonde?!'" Fudge recalls with a laugh. "That didn't seem to calculate, but it calculated pretty well as it went on. At first, it was kind of the same here. I only knew Megan Hilty as a beautiful blonde. When I did see her in costume, though, I could see what they saw."

Patsy & Loretta highlights the common ground and common threads between two pioneering female country stars, and delves into the brief but important friendship they shared. While the two had much in common, there is one major difference between them: Lynn is still alive today, and, therefore, has received accolades in recognition of her success and and experienced the biographical material depicting her storied career. Meanwhile, Cline's life was cut short in 1963, and while she did live to see herself become a successful artist, she never got to experience the full weight of her legacy and its impact on country music.

"I think she'd think it was all pretty crazy," Fudge replies, when asked what Cline would think about this new movie about her life. "I think that she would be surprised. I think she was surprised by what success she did see, which was very limited, when she finally did see some success toward the end of her life. I think she was humbled, and I think she was surprised, and I think she was pleased.

"To think about where she is now, this many years later," Fudge adds, "I think she would still be just as in awe of everything that's happened."

Produced by Sony Pictures Television and Zadan/Meron Entertainment for Lifetime, Patsy & Loretta was executive produced by Neil Meron, his first project since the death of his longtime producing partner, Craig Zadan, in 2018. The movie was filmed in Nashville, and is set for release on Oct. 19.

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