1917 – A harrowing and immersive account of life in the First World War Trenches.

As the Granddaughter of an ex soldier and dispatch rider from the Second World War, and Great Granddaughter to a soldier who served in the machine gun core during the battle of the Somme, I have always been fascinated by War history. I have always felt an umbilical like attachment to the subject, a need for more knowledge and to surround myself in the facts of the days long gone, but never forgotten. It is the real people’s stories that fascinate me. Their tales, often not told for centuries, for fear of judgement, returning memories, or implications years on, move me like no other, enduing long after the last shot was fired or the last man fell on the battle fields. Tales of a life lived, alongside a horrific period of history, where every day was soaked in fear and unknowing, journeys spiked by incredible fatigue and often injury, loss of friends and family, battling on through fog and mud. I was so taken by my Granddad’s own account, of his early days as a foot soldier, and then as a dispatch rider during World War 1, as well as learning about my Dad’s uncle Jack who died as a prisoner of War in Autumn 1918,  before the Armistice, that I even wrote a poem, which has been published locally and nationally and read on stage at the Theatr Gwaun Writers’ Festival in 2015. In his Boots is a re-imagining of the footsteps of a soldier, during the War, and everything he encounters, everything he feels during those years, told by the boots he wears.

Sam Mendes film, 1917, was on my radar long before the murmur of award nominations and critics reviews. I’ve seen many War films, including the more recent composition of World War 1 footage, in Peter Jackson’s  They Shall not Grow Old, the closest we have perhaps been to hearing and experiencing the real tales of war days from the soldiers themselves. 1917 blew them all out of the water, immersing me in 2 solid hours of war hell, from the depths of the Trenches in France, to the horrors of No Man’s Land and into the mouths of the German opposition camp.

1917 follows two men who are enlisted to travel together into enemy territory to deliver a hand written message to their allies, to stop an attack which could prove fatal to 1600 men. The seemingly impossible task, takes the viewer head on into the front line horrors of World War 1, Mendes directing beautifully, in a production that was shot to look as if it was made in one single take, not shying away from the harsh realities of such an ambitious feat. The true story itself, came from Mendes Grandfather, who helped him piece together the remarkable tale, and bring it to life on the big screen.

George Mackay and Dean Charles-Chapman play Lnc Corp William Scourfield and Lnc Corp Tom Blake, bringing humility and realness to the roles. Every feeling and action is felt by us too (from the fear at being approached by the enemy, to the relief at finding food and fresh milk at a farm house, to the horrors and risk of protecting each other). We root for them to get to where they need to be, fully aware of the fate that may await them. As they travel together, their bond strengthens, and when times become difficult, their strength and endurance is quite heartbreaking.

There are some great cameos by famous faces, including Colin Firth (General Erinmore) who first sends the men on their mission,  Andrew Scott as straight-talking Leslie, his satirical lines making us both laugh and despair as he aids Scourfield and Blake into No man’s land, and Benedict Cumberbatch as Colonel Mackenzie, the man who must ultimately stop the attack, under General Erinmore’s orders. However, Mendes makes the right choice in ensuring the glimpse of famous faces is brief, and the lead actors are virtually unknown. This adds to the authenticity of the production, these men could be anyone, even our own ancestors.

The cinematography (Roger Deakins) in this film is quite breathtaking at times. The filming was accomplished in a series of elongated takes with elaborately choreographed moving camera shots to give the idea that it was being shot in one continuous take. We remain with the two central characters from the very beginning, until the film credits go up.  Along with the incredibly atmospheric music, the cinematography serves to highlight each scene and each character’s feeling and emotions.

In the final few scenes of the film, we see the ruins of a French town and it’s church lit up against the backdrop of a world on fire. This is so striking on screen and hauntingly beautiful. As Scourfield stumbles through the wreckage, his only thought for his mission, the lighting is incredible, highlighting his exhausted frame, then plunging it back into darkness as he moves through the wreckage and runs from his attackers. This scene contrasts wonderfully with the later image of him floating down the river under a stream of cherry blossom petals. Mendes and his team highlight here the tragic beauty amidst the horror, much like the image of poppies growing on No Man’s Land. The idea that nature endures is comforting. 

Mendes’ latest project is a true to life, harrowing account of life in the First World War trenches. Yet it is also something much more. It is a celebration of friendship, of hope and endurance, a commemoration to the many men and women lost during the many past Wars and to their families, like Mendes’ own, who live on today with the memories. It’s for those men who never came back to tell their stories and for the next generation, who must learn the importance and value of remembering, to carry the torch on for their children. Everyone who worked on the film should be proud of what they’ve produced. 1917 should sit among the shelves of history, in a homage to the Great War.

Dracula – BBC One/Netflix

One of my favourite modern writing duos have returned to the BBC with an updated version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Stephen Moffatt and Mark Gatiss have become masters of taking literary classics and twisting them, making for gripping viewing and iconic work. Their last project, a modern updating of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, which made lead Benedict Cumberbatch a household name, was applauded by critics and audiences alike, and four series later it still has a cult following and a thirst (excuse the pun) for more episodes.

In Stoker’s Dracula, Moffat and Gatiss, have done it again. Taking a Gothic novel that is centuries old and turning it on it’s head, with a brooding and blood thirsty vampire who comes up against a feisty nun (Dolly Wells deserves a Bafta), and travels across the world and time itself into a modern day Sherlockian style science lab to meet his fate, and the future blood line of his victims. Claes Bang is fabulously breathtaking as the Count, terrorising strangers and ripping his victims apart, while cracking one liners with a quick smile.

Emerging, covered in mucus, from a wolves body, he says to the terrified nuns, ‘I don’t know about you ladies, but I do love fur.’ While he constantly refers to his not drinking ‘wine’ and that he likes ‘vintage.’

Johnathan Harker, the lawyer sent to visit the Count, is shockingly unrecognisable at the beginning of the first episode as he sits in the shadows of the castle, telling the nuns his story. We watch horrified as he talks slowly, unsteadily, prompted by Sister Agatha, his eyes sunken in his emaciated face, bald head and sunken teeth. A fly crawls across his eye and then disappears behind it, he doesn’t flinch. This opening sets the scene for the horror to come.

Later, the blood and gore is there in abundance, with necks being torn open, heads being decapitated (and used as a kind of bloody dice in his game) and fingernails slipping off the fingers of dying humans like paper.

This adaptation pays homage to all the others, the creeping silent Nosferatu of 1922 (the original setting of Orava castle in Slovakia is used in this production), to the dark mystery and charm of Christopher Lee (1958 techni-colour production), and the screeches and laughs of the hammer horror movies. Yet it adds a particularly modern flavour, which is distinctive of Moffatt and Gatiss’s work. The scientific visuals in the opening credits, the episode titles and information on screen, and of course the switch to modern day in the final episode. We can’t help but laugh as we see Dracula adjusting to the modern world, in the creators imaginings, swiping left and right on tinder, texting and even using the internet to get himself a lawyer (who is brilliantly played in a cameo by Gatiss). We allow Moffat and Gatiss to get away with the slight time adjustments, of a technology focused modern day world set against a very 80’s style backdrop including techno music of the era.

There are also several humorous nods to the practicality of having a vampire, a non human creature in a very human world – in particular when Dracula points out the toilet in his cell and asks what it is for. ‘I’m a vampire!’ he declares, clearly amused, as the audience laughs too.

Moffatt and Gatiss go even further to twist the myths of the beast himself, and to suggest reasons for why he fears so many things. Wells is strong and confident as well as witty and sarcastic, as atheist Sister Agatha Van Helsing. Her real identity and heritage is something which we don’t see coming. Although we do perhaps guess that the woman in disguise at the monastery is Harker’s fiance, through several camera close ups and a suggestion she knows more than her silence portrays. The final episode brings the tale with a crash into the modern day, where Van Helsing herself appears to be waiting on a beach for Dracula, with a full swat team and helicopter. We of course, later learn that this Van Helsing is a descendent of Sister Agatha, and the manager of the facility which has been set up to explore his kind for medical research and ultimately detain him.

This is where it gets particularly exciting, as everything from here on is unpredictable. We cannot guess how it will end.

This fantastic series has taken a much loved classic and brought it to life in new ways, opening the door for more. The format here would work well as a series, much like Sherlock. Whether the response will demand it, or the writers will consider and pursue it remains to be seen.

A new writing year

It’s the end of the first week of a New Year. The futuristic sounding 2020, a year that promises big change. Having had a particularly difficult and stressful end to 2019, my writing, once again seemed to fall by the wayside. Even when there were small, unoccupied pockets of time in my schedule, I had neither the inspiration or the energy. People no longer seemed to fascinate me, but simply to annoy and irritate me. And if i was to have a chance to be alone, in a room, with only my laptop and hours to write freely, I certainly did not want to write about them. I just needed to be, for a while.

So, at midnight on the 31st December, with the turning of a New Year and also a new decade, I promised myself that this year things would be different.  I had to stop treating my writing like a hobby, or something far down my list of priorities, to squeeze in when there was no need for anything else. I also, more so, had to stop other people treating my writing this way. I had to face the truth of what I wanted. To be left alone, to have times to read and watch films, and indulge netflix series, to set the ground for my inspiration and creativity to be brought to life. I asked myself, ‘why must I always be at breaking point before I realise this?’ The cycle often continues and I find myself, inevitably in the same place, over and over, year after year, questioning my choices and my sanity. At the end of year, it dawned on me that I was actually the instigator of my own fate. I would plan and organise, and say yes, and promise and push myself and go out of my way…when what really mattered, what I really needed, was forgotten pushed aside. My happiness was somehow forgotten or deemed unimportant, often by myself, but also by other people who did not have my best interests at heart.

So I found myself looking into the New Year, with a sense of positivity, of excitement for change, for progress and for me. There was also the sense of peace and calm, that recognised I needed to slow down, to reflect and learn from last year. Being busy did not always mean being happy, or successful, or rich. I would find the value in small things, in simple experience, in the people I loved being around. Also remembering everything I have achieved, imagining what a 10 year old me, even a 20 year old me might make of where I am in my life now. If I’d tried to see into the future and what my life might be like at 36, when I was much younger, I could never imagined I’d be where I am now.

Poems and articles published in newspapers and magazines, working on my third book and part time in a Theatre as well as being a Private Tutor. I’ve achieved more than I could have imagined and I’m proud of where I’ve come from and where I’ve been. The support of my family and friends has been immeasurable and even in difficult times this year they have shown their support and love in so many wonderful ways.

My final realisation seemed to settle when everything else had come to the surface. I needed to ease the pressure. For I read somewhere once that ‘only you can change the way you treat yourself, how you talk to yourself and what you think about you. Only you can change yourself and your habits. No one else.’ This is true, and it continues to resonate. Only I can do this. Only I can save my creativity from being stifled and crushed from the stress and pressures of every day life. I have to remain positive and open and calm, to allow myself to think and feel as a writer does. I have to make time for my work, for my craft and my experimentation. It makes me happy, it makes me thrive, it makes me complete. So this New Year, this New dawn of creativity, will hopefully bring with it the opportunity for lots more writing, as well as reading, watching films, walking, baking, everything that inspires me to be at my best. I hope that this time next year I feel as happy and positive and will have achieved the simple pleasures that I seek, with the support and confidence of those who matter.

Ruby Wax – How to be Human

Last night (7th November), I went to the Lyric Theatre to see Ruby Wax, as part of her How to be Human Tour. I’ve never seen Ruby live and my knowledge of her only extends to her being a very small but loud American woman who is known for her 25 plus year career as a stand up comic and writer for several of her own comedy shows, as well as editing Absolutely Fabulous. I confess I have never read any of her books, despite being very interested in the research and treatment of Mental Health conditions such as Depression and Anxiety. Ruby’s award-winning work campaigning for mental health charities as well as her own frank experiences of her personal struggles, has meant she has been on my radar for awhile. So when the chance came for tickets at one of my local Theatre’s, I took it.

I entered the Theatre, not knowing what to expect. Having not ready any of her books, including the book on which the Tour is based, I had no preconceptions. The only thing I gathered, was that it would be funny, and very honest. So when the stage lights went up and Ruby appeared on stage, all bets were off. This would be interesting.

After an initial ‘warm up’ to get the audience chucking and on her side, Wax explained the journey that had lead her to this tour. With a throwaway joke that ‘everyone is mentally ill these days’ following her work and several books on the subject, she noted that she realised she had to move in a new direction, and this would be to explore the ideas behind what makes us human. This would be done firstly with the guidance of her research and notes on the human make up and development from Evolution through to modern day, focusing on Thoughts, emotions, the body, compassion, forgiveness, sex and relationships. Then, she noted, she would be introducing a Monk and a Neuroscientist for their input.

Oh, and they couldn’t afford the projection of handy visual images on a screen, which she’d planned. So she’d point the ‘clicker’ at the screen for effect only. Whether this was a fault on the night at this particular venue, and not actually a budget issue, we’ll never know. Yet the audience just laughed and joined in on the joke.

What proceeded was a rather bizarre mix of a lecture/seminar style presentation of her findings, with facts and figures that she noted playfully, may or may not be true. For someone who lives to learn and for factual information, this proved rather difficult and often distracting.  This was interjected with personal asides and stories about her own relation to topics such as our thoughts, emotions and relationships. Many of these were fascinating but I struggled to keep up and link together her points.

Some interesting facts came up, if they are true facts. Wax noted that once, billions of years ago, we were all the same colour, and it was simply the direction in which our ancestors chose to walk which resulted in the way we look today. If true, fascinating. Although a call by Wax, for any bigots disappointed by this, particularly Ku Klux Klan members, to stand up, felt a little uncomfortable. Is this just an example of her oddball, often satirical humour?

Also, Wax’s visual description of the way the brain is formatted, to allow for information to pass through, with a hilarious metaphor of a Maserati pushing down on a toy tractor, to allow us to make choices that are often contradictory. To the rather beautiful visual description of thoughts being processed like bees in a hive, worker bees working in different areas of the brain to make us make choices, such as to buy a particular coffee, from activity in the sensory area of the brain to conjure physical images, to those manufacturing the smell of coffee in the smell area of the brain, to the more physical movement bees that makes us walk to the nearest coffee shop.

Wax’s passion and enthusiasm often made up for periods of audience confusion or lack of clarity on points linking together. After all, if you want a stream lined lecture on psychology, you’d go elsewhere. That, was not what Wax was doing.

The first act of her show was funny, at times touching, as she spoke of her own bouts of depression, and asked the audience to turn to the person either side of them and take a good look, and smile. ‘Because they might look normal on the outside, but underneath that, they’re just as much of a f**k up as you are.’ Brutal but true.

After the interval Wax returned with Buddhist Monk, Gelong Thubten. The neuroscientist unfortunately was too ill to take part. This did disappoint slightly as the show then seemed rather one sided, although Wax did try to speak for the empty seat and gave her solo guest more than a challenge.

This half of the show was more serious and I felt the audience turn a little. Thubten talked of his experience of being a monk for over 25 years, what lead him to that place and how he saw the modern world. He made some particularly valid points about finding happiness and peace in ourselves, rather than searching outside for it and constantly looking to others and external sources to make us happy. As Ruby agreed, we are yet to figure out what makes us happy and we’re hard wired to think that being busy means we’re happy.

Thubten also noted that the way we view ourselves is changing, that we now constantly question who we are and what we like, as we are endlessly seeking approval from other people via social media, likes and thumbs up or down are taking control over the way we live our lives and present ourselves to the world.  I found this part of the show, far more interesting, although the comedy aspect seemed to drain away. The discussion even getting quite heated at times, as Wax interrupted Thubten mid flow.

The show ended with Wax doing an odd dance with a ribbon streamer, perhaps a homage to her dashed desire to be a cheerleader in high school, which she performed for a few minutes before she and the monk bowed and then left the stage.

I can honestly say it was one of the most bizarre experiences of my life, but I enjoyed it, I learnt a lot. I listened and I laughed too. Wax has a strange kind of magnetic power that draws you in. I felt this in person when I met her in the foyer and she signed my new copy of How to be Human.

If you get a chance, it’s worth seeing this tour, just for the pure experience. There’s nothing else out there like it, I guarantee you!

Plus, her observation that we all need a monk to travel with us, was more than accurate. A calming, insightful influence would go a long way in my life!





Time for doubts?

So, last week I had a bit of a meltdown. I reached the end of my tether, the point of no return, the edge of the abyss. Not to be dramatic, but I lost my creative mojo. I had been working on a project, a collaboration with a friend and colleague. The project allowed for me to ease back into freelancing and for her to advertise her new business. Just write a good article, I thought, then send it in to local press, easy. I knew my writing was good, I knew the article was good and the subject was great. A graduate starting a new business in her home County? A business which is original and dynamic and eco-friendly.  A producer of beautifully handmade leisure wear and knitwear for all markets?

The little detail I forgot, was how difficult it had been to get freelance work a few years ago, how much has changed in the world of freelance since. Then a hint of success, a confirmation of publication with a newspaper I had worked for previously, ended in disaster. The same day it was due for print, the paper folded. A depressing example of the decline of print media, the effects of economic and political uncertainty on businesses and funding for those businesses. In short, we were both disappointed.

Yet the project would continue. With new targets and a rewrite on the cards, hopefully success is just around the corner. I took it well, we both took it well. Being past the meltdown stage, lifted slightly by a rearrangement of my work area and this – at first – exciting news of imminent publication. I’ve come to learn, maybe not accept, that this is part of the job of being a writer. You have to take the rough with the smooth, you have to take the knocks with the successes. As a good friend advised, ‘you have to have a thick skin for this business’. And boy is she right.

I’d spent the early part of the week dwelling on the fact that I’d written 2 books, and was now working on a third, with no suggestion of publication. That, despite being shortlisted and long-listed for competitions, I had never won any. Having written many articles, short stories and poems, I had only had a handful published. That my freelance work for a local paper, had come to an end after just 18 months or so, and it was proving difficult to find more work. My job in a local Theatre, although great, is customer service based and not contributory towards the creative side of the business. But more painful to digest, was the fact that there was no other option for me. To write was all that I wanted. To write and write successfully. Something which a friend and colleague pointed out (the beauty of my working environment, is friends with similar creative ambitions), can be defined as many different things.

I asked myself… what do I class as success? If it’s to be a writer, then I’ve succeeded. If it’s to write a book, then I’ve succeeded.. twice. If it’s to get something published, then I’ve succeeded in that too.  Everyone counts success as different things. What might be seen as success for me, could be different to another person. It’s extremely subjective and some people are extremely tough on themselves. Yes, that’s me. When this was pointed out to me, by several different people, I began to realise, that just because I felt like I was failing to achieve my goal, that I hadn’t actually done much at all in my life, that isn’t how others see it. To an outsider, a friend or a stranger even, it might look like I had achieved a lot of things.

This extract from Matt Haig’s Notes on a Nervous Planet particularly registers with me:

You will be happy to write. You will be happy to be published. You will be happy to be published again. You will be happy to have a bestseller. You will be happy to have a number one bestseller. You will be happy when they turn your book into a movie. You will be happy when they turn it into a great movie. You will be happy when you are JK Rowling…..

His point is, when does it end? We are never happy with what we have or what we achieve. Do we ever really stop to celebrate it? Or are we on to the next thing, constantly searching for happiness and approval? Never really feeling happy at all.

I’ve just googled the average age of an Author, and it came back as 36. Curtis Brown, a leading Publishing Agency, published an article on this a few years ago, suggesting the average age of a first time Author on first publication was 36.

That is my current age. Although many Authors that are currently in the bestseller list, or Authors that I read, are above that, I’d say the average Author age of books I currently read is at least 40 plus. Of course there are younger Authors, Mary Shelley was just 19 when she wrote Frankenstein. Christopher Paolini started writing his best selling novel Eragon at 15 and had it published at the age of 19. Catherine Webb had 4 YA novels published by the age of 20! But generally, first time Authors are in the 36+ bracket. So maybe I am right where I need to be.

Yet, when you have had a dream since you were 10 years old, surely it’s excusable to get a little lost and frustrated at times? The 10 year old me, with the wonderful imagination and passion for books and writing, had no idea that this dream would take so long to come into fruition. Or that it might take many forms, on varying levels of success. She just wanted to create stories, to enter that imaginary world and be happy. So when I return to my writing desk, I need to remember that little girl and try and see the world through her eyes again. After all, she brought me to where I am today. I’ve no doubt that she will continue to fight for that dream, whatever shape it takes in the future. Maybe her dream is already in fruition. Every day of my life I have the option to write and to create. I have the tools, the space, the imagination. Maybe not always time and energy, but the basics are there. I’m doing it now, I’m succeeding now. There has to be value in that.

My new writing idol

Phoebe Waller-Bridge is my current writing idol. Creator of one woman stage show, Fleabag, which has just completed a gripping second series for the BBC, as well as screenwriter for the breathtaking Killing Eve, Waller Bridge is the one to watch.

Fresh out of Drama School, and unable to find female roles that she desired to play or even felt she could play, Waller Bridge decided to write something for herself. In Fleabag, which is her own family nickname,she created a fictional character who is sexually promiscuous, brash and deeply tormented, yet also incredibly funny and relatable. Waller-Bridge is great at creating gripping characters, particularly women, who are often unapologetic about their actions, their sexuality or their connections in life. Women who are strong and confident, while also unashamed to admit their fears and desires, without needing to explain themselves or their positions as women in society.

Fleabag is complicated. She struggles to come to terms with traumatic past events, which leads to addictions to alcohol and sex, and several amusing verbal outbursts, often as added asides to camera where her feelings cannot be contained. Her family is completely dysfunctional. Her Sister, while attempting to untangle herself from any family associations, is incredibly similar to Fleabag in her reactions to events, and together Fleabag and Claire (Sian Clifford) have a connection that pulls them back to each other, particularly in times of trouble. They are vicious and unforgiving to each other, but they stand up for, and even lie to protect, each other. In the second series, Fleabag’s ‘little miscarriage’ outburst at a family meal, brings all kinds of trouble.

Olivia Coleman is brilliant as Fleabag’s new step mum. Former Godmother to Fleabag and Claire, it seems she has slipped into the family unit quite comfortably. Her sly and snide comments to Fleabag and irritating ways make for comedy gold. Yet she is narcissistic and self obsessed, threatened by her new husband’s family. It’s heartbreaking how Fleabag’s Father (played to great effect by Bill Paterson) seems to ignore his future Wife’s behaviour. When he sees her slap his daughter across the face, then try and hide what she’d done by straightening the coats on the coat rack, he does nothing. Fleabag seems unsurprised by this and it’s never brought up again. From comments made by her Father, we gather that Fleabag is much like her Mother. Suggesting her Father was rather passive in the relationship. Paterson’s character is likeable yet also frustrating. He is often awkward, uncomfortable and unsure of himself. He dislikes confrontation and avoids any form of debate, yet clearly loves his daughters. Scenes from season 2, where Fleabag physically helps him down the aisle to marry her hated step mother, are quite moving.

While Fleabag has been labelled as shocking and controversial by some when it first appeared on our screens, in 2016, probably due to the nature of it’s themes, it has been received with great love and admiration by the masses. It’s heavy on the sex, swearing and even bringing female masturbation into the fore. (One scene featuring a news report of Obama is particularly shocking). As series one develops, we begin to learn more about this sex obsessed, drinking, smoking, swearing woman. She is much like anyone else, in that she is trying to cover the pain of loss and regret, to connect with her dysfunctional family and to find some form of happiness in modern existence. In Fleabag, Waller-Bridge has created a representation for the modern woman, or man even. she celebrates the broken people, the struggling, the dysfunctional, the average. Fleabag is unapologetic, she stands up for what she believes in, for what is right, for her family and friends. Her Brother-in-Law, Martin (played by American Brett Gelman) is a horrible person, who doesn’t appreciate his wife at all. She despises him, much as we do as an audience, encouraging her sister to chase the happiness she deserves with a fellow colleague, whose name, ironically, is Klare.

Her friend Boo is funny and outrageous, much like Fleabag, as well as being sweet and affectionate and the loss of her, as well as events around it, have deeply affected our heroine.

Fleabag holds regret in her heart and feels pain for any wrongdoing. She is ultimately a good person. Her asides to camera, act like little confessions to the audience, and make us feel part of her world. Her mischievous streak is thrilling, from stealing a small, priceless statue from her step mother, to purchasing a vibrator for her sister, and even falling for the (very) wrong man.

Season 2, is arguably stronger than the first, as we see more depth to Fleabag, and we are introduced to one of the most magnetic characters in TV since Colin Firth’s Mr Darcy. Andrew Scott breaths new life into the series, as the priest who is set to marry Fleabag’s Father and God Mother.

Scott has excelled in any role that I’ve seen him in. The most memorable as Moriarty in the BBC series of Sherlock (by Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss). More recently he portrayed a struggling widower who had a grievance against a social media giant in Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror for Netflix.

In Fleabag, Scott is a dedicated new Vicar (who also happens to drink and swear!) who becomes involved with the family while helping to arrange the wedding. He takes pity on Fleabag when a family dinner turns into a punch up, and she reveals falsely that she had ‘a little miscarriage’ while covering for her sister. From there, their friendship grows and Fleabag is clearly attracted to him. The chemistry between them both is incredible, so when they finally get together, we are ecstatic. Yet the constant reference to God, including some striking choral music, leaves us uneasy. The musical score was actually created by Isobel Waller-Bridge, and sharing the family’s comedic gene, many of Greek or Latin words used in the score are words for Male and Female private parts.

The idea of God making a painting fall from the wall of the church as a warning for the Priests behaviour, is brilliant, and shows Waller- Bridge at her writing best. Some of Boo’s lines are also funny and heart warming, particularly when she is talking about erasers on pencils.

‘That’s why they have them, because people make mistakes.’

This line of Boo’s seems to sum up Fleabag’s character and mindset. She is forever paying for her mistakes.

The Priest’s ultimate reasons to why he can’t be with Fleabag, are heartbreaking. The way the series ends suggest another may be in sight, yet Waller- Bridge has made speculations that she wants to leave the series at this point. The West End show, on which the series was originally based, is currently in the West End and being screened live in cinemas next month, which should surely stir up appetite for more?

Strong female leads on the big and small screen

I love a good netflix series as much as the next person and some of my recent discoveries have been a pleasant surprise, offering some strong female roles as well as being written and produced by women too. I recently became painfully aware of how few women are at the top of their game in film and TV in comparison with their male counterparts. Not just in pay and roles offered, but also in terms of directing and producing. Although I was pleasantly surprised to see in the Sunday Times a few weeks ago, a fair selection of female Authors climbing the best seller list.

Good Girls was the first Netflix series that highlighted this surge in female empowerment on the big screen. An American show that follows 3 women, (two who are sisters with very different lives) who decide to take responsibilities for the financial struggles in their lives by robbing a supermarket store. Annie, a single mum with money troubles and a fear of losing her son to her rich ex and his snobby wife, works at the store and has inside info which helps to get them in.

Beth, Annie’s big sister, is the brains behind the operation, planning everything to the letter, with a kick ass attitude to boot. As a mother of four, the promise of a better life for her children leads her into the darker side of suburban life, a world of crime, guns and gangsters who threaten her life.

Ruby, their friend, has a sick daughter who she longs to help with a pioneering medical trial, which comes at a great cost. Beyond what her and her husband can afford.

Good girls has the perfect mix of crime, humour and strong female attitude which packs a punch when the chips are down. It’s creator, Jenna Bans has sited the creation of the show as a kind of reaction to the Trump election. How she began to think about the idea that you follow all the rules and do everything right and you expect things should turn out right for you, but what happens if they don’t? How do you come back from that? Good girls, and the actions of the 3 main characters is her response to this question. She pitched the original idea for the pilot to a room full of female executives, and they loved it. Bans also says she wanted her story to come from a very real place, of how real people might react in such surreal situations and this is definitely where the connection comes in.

As we follow the story of Good Girls, we become connected to each character and their lives. They aren’t bad people, they’re just in bad situations and financially this was the only way out for them. While it’s funny, it’s also rather dark. With threats of death, guns, gangsters and moments so close to being uncovered. Plus some very unsettling scenes such as Annie’s situation with her lewd boss, who uncovers her secret and attempts to use it to get what he wants. But these women are smart and the overall message is that they’re taking back their power, whatever the consequences. They’re not relying on anyone else for help or support. It’s a woman’s world and women run it.

Following from this, came recent Netflix series Dead to me, starring Christina Applegate as a grieving widower who vows to find the person who hit her husband with their car and left him for dead. Quirky, dark and humorous all at the same time, this series is so different from Good girls. It’s slower in pace and goes to a lot darker places but there are so many twists and turns that you can’t see coming. Linda Cardellini plays Judy Hale, who meets Jen at a grief support group and quickly becomes a close friend. But there is much more to Judy’s story and the delicious plot that unfolds will keep you guessing and gasping until the end of the series. Applegate and Cardellini are a great team and the chemistry between them is amazing. This show also, more than Good girls, seems to have a focus on female fashion, with the outfits of the women drawing the eye on more than one occasion. Don’t get me wrong, the writing and acting is brilliant, this isn’t just a gimmick to steer away from a bad plot. The fashion just adds to the visual experience. The characters are owning their lives, while wearing some fabulous clothes. Lets face it there’s nothing more powerful than a good outfit.

The scenery is also appealing as is the original choice of music in places. Both female leads come across as really likeable despite their many flaws and as a viewer, we become drawn into their world to such an extent that we want them to succeed, and we also want the strong friendship, the bond between them, to continue, much as we do with the characters of Good Girls too.

In terms of female leads in British TV at the moment, the obvious front runner is Killing Eve. A dark and seductive tale of the obsessive relationship between two women,  one a lethal assassin, fantastically named, Vilanelle (played chillingly by Jody Comer), the other, Eve Polastri (played by Sandra Oh, of Grey’s Anatomy fame), a M15 Security Officer who will stop at nothing to catch the relentless criminal. Of course we’ve seen the twisted relationships between villains and their hunters before, throughout crime genre history – the most famous that of Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, but Killing Eve cleverly brings a fresh perspective on the theme. Vilanelle and Eve are two fiercely intelligent women that are not just obsessed with each other, their emotions and actions flipping at the flick of a switch, so we never know where we stand, until the very end (series one had one of the most intense climaxes in the final episode, that I’ve ever seen in British Television). They are joined to one another, connected by some unknown force, unable to let each other go, yet they are both two powerful women as they stand alone, not needing anything or anyone else, including a man to love and protect them. They are both fiercely capable of acts beyond normal human comprehension. The only thing that separates them is their morals, their reaction to such events. And as we see the story move into series 2, disturbingly, we see Eve begin to almost act like her assassin. We look on as she gorges on sweets, moments after stabbing Vilanelle and running from a Parisian Builidng down a beautiful staircase and out onto the street. Moments later she wipes a knife blade clean of Vilanelle’s blood and hides it in a sanitary bin in the ladies toilets of the airport.

Writer, Phoebe Waller-Bridge is also known for her female led, dark comedy, Fleabag, which has gained great praise from critics.  Waller-Bridge has a wonderful insight into the human mind and a beautifully dark way of presenting women to the world, in all their imperfect glory. Like other programmes and films in this new, emerging, powerful female genre, Killing Eve also has a killer soundtrack, incorporating many foreign language songs as well as a focus on female fashion, beautiful clothes that are worn by women taking control and running with dark situations.

If we focus on film over the past year or so, we’ve seen a rise of female actors taking the lead in high grossing films. Olivia Coleman, an actress previously known for TV series and small parts in film, took on the lead role as Queen Anne in dark comedy, The Favourite, a challenging role which earned her a golden globe and saw one of the most humbling speeches every seen at an awards ceremony. The role presented a woman in power, as someone very human, very touched by emotion, exploring her sexuality and often disturbed and pained by her surroundings, giving a very raw and real account of her time on the throne. In other less thought provoking films, such as Avengers: Captain Marvel (Brie Larson as the lead superhero) and the recent instalment of the Men in Black franchise (where we see Emma Thompson as the head of the organisation – airing her frustration of the sexist name MIB), we see women at the core of the story. Not just for aesthetics but in powerful positions, being shown as smart and funny, while being wholly capable of achieving things with or without assistance.

In this new age of women taking back power, in the light of the #metoo movement and more opportunities presenting themselves for women, it’s great to see these women being represented on screen. Not in some unbelievable, tacky, unrealistic model of what  a women should be, but a real representation of a women. Whatever size, race, sexual orientation, moral values… These women are real, they are hardcore villains, crime fighting execs, hard working mums, seeking moral justice or just economic stability. Yet underneath it all, they are women, they are strong women, not reliant on men or anyone else to reach their goals. They are also vulnerable and they mess up and they let things get the better of them. This has to be a positive message for the future generations, and a nod towards a positive space for more female writers, directors, producers and actors within the media.