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.



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