Where film fails, TV is pushing the boundaries for unsexualised, realistic heroines.
There’s a new detective drama series on Sky Atlantic. It’s called ‘Mare of Easttown’ and stars the magnificent and beautiful Kate Winslet as a hardbitten female detective investigating a series of brutal murders in a small midwestern town. It’s an impressive series - beautifully and ominously shot with lots of great locations. But what struck me about it most was just how rough the usually smokin’ hot Mrs Winslet looked.
Winslet’s Mare Sheehan is roughed-up in a torn jacket with matted hair. She wears no make-up and appears partnerless. That’s until she meets a hunky Guy Pearce and they have a really graphic sex scene. I always thought the addition of a boyfriend and sex was contradictory to the bechdel-beting power of Winslet’s image - that a woman doesn’t a man to complete her.
I’m not saying female characters need to look rough. Not at all. They need to look realistic, though. Like everyday people - not just like supermodels like Gal Gadot and Scarlett Johansson. On this level, Winslet’s Mare is an everyday average jane and terrific for it. I just wish the showrunners didn’t need a man to complete her.
TV is breaking boundaries for rough n’ ready, realistic heroines. Female characters every bit as battered and bruised and three-dimensional as their male counterparts. I wish the superhero films of today would think with the same level playing field in mind...
Keir Starmer’s lavish criticism of Boris suggests he only rants, no answers.
“He has half an hour every week to put serious and sensible questions to me about the state of the pandemic, about the vaccine rollout, about what we’re doing to support our NHS, about what we’re doing to fight crime, about what we’re doing to bounce back from this pandemic, about economic recovery, about jobs for the people of this country. And he goes on and on, Mr Speaker, about wallpaper when, as I’ve told him umpteen times now, I paid for it…”. Those were Boris Johnson’s furious words after he was repeatedly questioned by Keir Starmer at PMQs about his role in the flat furore.
It’s words that echo loud and clear and suggest foreboding things of the state of Keir Starmer’s Labour leadership. This week’s PMQs was less a polite political discussion than a shouting match. Both Boris and Keir showed their very worst side.
For Boris, he was reduced to a ranting, petulant teenager facing comeuppance for supposed comments that he would rather have the “bodies pile high” than impose a second lockdown. For Keir, the fallout was more sinister. It showed him to be both a charisma vacuum and an empty vessel making the most noise.
I’m not a great Boris fan myself, but he was the only one speaking an inch of common sense during this whole shout-a-thon. He’s correct. Keir should’ve been questioning him on the vaccine rollout, what needed to be done to support the NHS and revive the economy. Instead he reverted to petty, abusive insults branding the Prime Minister a “sleaze” and a “crony”. He continues to go on and on about Boris’ bloody wallpaper when there are far more important fish to fry.
I might be able to take Starmer more seriously if he was offering any solutions to the real problems of this pandemic. His outlook has continuously been one of “let’s just bash Boris” without actually coming up with a good alternative. He doesn’t have a vision for the free market model which he claims has failed, but offers no credible alternative, for example. I put it to Keir - could you do any better?!
The Greensill scandal and the wallpaper row has undoubtedly done damage to the Tory Party’s reputation; offering further ammunition for sceptics to trash them as a party of nasty, elitist opportunists. But I stress again that Labour has consistently proved themselves to be every bit as opportunistic. Remember the Expenses scandal? That was mainly Labour MPs - not the “wicked, nasty Tories”.
Keir’s accusations of sleaze and cronyism only go to reveal a fundamental flaw with the Left today. They make a lot of noise because naturally their voices struggle to be heard, but don’t actually come up with any solutions. It’s all good to trash the Tories, but what does Labour stand for anymore than let’s just hate them? I’m beginning to regret ever giving Keir Starmer the benefit of the doubt. He’s embodying every bit the ranty, smug, morally superior left-wing politician I have consistently detested. No wonder Labour won’t be returning to power anytime soon...
*Mare of Easttown (Sky Atlantic) - ***
Kate Winslet made a sturdy cop, but the gender politics are a bit questionable.
Why do female cops look so rough on TV? That’s a question I’ve been asking ever since seeing Sarah Lund in ‘The Killing’ with her matted grey jumper and shaggy hair. It’s a question I’m asking again in ‘Mare of Easttown’ (Sky Atlantic) which features the magnificent and beautiful Kate Winslet matted-haired and draped in a torn coat. Perhaps it’s symbolic of the Bechdel-beating power of today’s TV dramas that a woman doesn’t need good looks to complete her. But ‘Mare of Easttown’ contradicts this by giving Winslet a hunky boyfriend (Guy Pearce) and a pretty graphic sex scene.
‘Mare of Easttown’ clearly has ambitions to be a Scandi-style noir in vein of ‘The Killing’ and ‘The Bridge’. It’s set in a small midwestern American town with Christmas trees and grey skies that could easily have walked off the set of ‘Twin Peaks’ (1990-1991). Winslet is hard bitten detective Mare Sheehan. She’s a cop, a mum and a grandmum to a little boy. And she’s living in a town where a girl is missing, a prowler is peeping through windows and another girl is found dead by a stream.
This is Winslet’s first TV drama in a decade. The last time she did so was in ‘Mildred Pearce’ (another HBO show). She’s very good as Sheehan - battered and bruised and with a pretty right-wing mindset on life in the rural America this drama is set. Her appearance certainly mirrors that of Sarah Lund, but her gender politics do not.
Sarah Lund didn’t need a man or sex to complete her. Here Winslet has sex with Guy Pearce and starts a relationship. It’s quite stereotypical and contradictory of her entire image as being a Bechdel-test-beating heroine. She even picks him up in a bar.
The scenery is stunning and the music very ominous. I especially liked the ending scene where the little girl is washed up next to the stream. Very disturbing stuff. I don’t doubt this whodunnit will become a key focus over the next few weeks.
But the whodunnit aspect is not key to this drama’s success. Like ‘Broadchurch’ and ‘The Missing’, this is really a tale of a tightly-knit community and how tragedy can rip a hole in it. There’s lots of potential suspects with everybody hiding something.
This is a strong, Scandi-style mystery thriller with a powerful female lead. But it could’ve been better had it not played to feminine stereotypes.
‘Mare of Easttown’ is on Now TV now.
Keir Starmer hasn’t proved the Labour Party has changed - in fact, it’s more retrograde than ever.
Keir Starmer was thrown out of a pub on Monday. The incident happened during the Labour leader’s visit to Bath where pub landlord Rod Humphris tussled with security, muttered Barbara Windsor’s iconic catchphrase “get out of my pub” and claimed Starmer had failed the nation.
Of course, Humphris is an idiot. He believes there should never have been a lockdown or restrictions and that the whole pandemic is a hoax. He’s entitled to his views, but Starmer made the effort to say they were “disagreeable” to say the least. But this aggressive gesture to throw the Leader of the Opposition out of a pub suggests Labour have truly lost touch with the common people.
Pub landlord Humphris claimed to be a “life-long Labour voter”, but said Starmer had failed to do the acceptable job of the opposition. What does that tell you about the Labour leader’s public image?
I was willing to give Starmer the benefit of the doubt. He’s certainly the most electable Labour leader in years, but he’s dragged down by a party utterly skewed to the Left and unable to see any other point of view. It’s a shame, to be honest, that he’s suffering the price paid for the ranty, one-sided efforts of newly-elected ultra-Leftists to bring the party down to a new low.
They are the reason Labour suffered its worst defeat at the 2019 Election since 1935. And now, with Keir kicked out of a pub, there is some proof that the party has lost the touch of the public. They wanted answers and Labour has not given them them. It bodes badly for the May elections...
It is a show that thinks every French person eats baguettes, speaks in a grotesquely stereotypical accent and wears berets. It’s a show which features the lovely Lily Collins being ogled at in short skirts from behind and then she claims a nude French ad is “sexist, not sexy” when she is just about the most objectified and objectionable character in the whole show. It’s a show where a woman’s only worth is to flirt with and sleep with hunky French men. Honestly…
These are gender politics more poisonous than a tiger snake. It’s not even that I don’t like chick flicks or, should I say, movies aimed at women. I have a real soft spot for a good, witty female-orientated feature. That’s why I love ‘Mean Girls’ (2004), ‘Clueless’ (1995) and ‘Easy A’ (2010). They represented femininity and feminism as smart, sassy and sweet - not shallow, superficial and sycophantic.
Take ‘Bridesmaids’ (2011), for example. There again, I’m not the target audience, but I laughed myself s**tless watching Melissa McCarthy having a s**t. That movie empowers women because it says they can be as dirty as the guys. In the case of ‘Emily in Paris’, Emily Cooper is just a self-obsessed bimbo and a racist at that.
15, 119 Mins
‘I, Tonya’ follows the life of figure skater Tonya Harding and her involvement in the 1994 attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan. Margot Robbie is the tough, trash-talking Tonya raised by an abusive mother (Alison Janney) and subjected to an even more abusive husband (Sebastian Stan).
She’s brilliant as Tonya. This is a very different role for her - it’s not one of those sexy, look-at-me kind of performances we’ve come to expect from her. She spends much of this film battered and bruised, but comes out all the more empowering as a result of it. This is Robbie flexing her unusually “ugly” acting bones and she relishes it.
The film is told in a mockumentary style and features up-to-the-minute interviews with Tonya, her mother, her husband and various other competitors. These interviews are often blackly comic and quite trashy especially when spoken by mother. It gives the drama a satirical edge as though Director Craig Gillespie is twisting the satirical knife into his subjects.
‘I, Tonya’ compliments this with shocking scenes of domestic violence. There’s multiple moments where Tonya and her husband are beaten to the pulp. That put me in mind of the bare-knuckle brutality of Martin Scorsese’s ‘Raging Bull’ (1980). Like that classic, ‘I, Tonya’ has Shakespearean levels of fire and fury. With added sexual jealousy.
Then there’s the skating scenes. My gosh, don’t they look spectacular? Especially with Fleetwood Mac on the soundtrack. Gillespie excellently and beautifully choreographes the ski action in line with the music. Very reminiscent of the crunchy car chases and musical melodiousness of ‘Baby Driver’ (2017). This is a musical as much as it is a tragedy.
‘I, Tonya’ is topnotch Oscar viewing. A modern-day American tragicomedy with humour at its heart and a barnstorming, unsexualised performance from Margot Robbie. You’ll be cheering for her!
15, 114 Mins
The biggest disappointment of this awards season has arrived and I was really looking forward to it. It’s called ‘Promising Young Woman’ (2021) and it’s directed by the super-posh Emerald Fennell who made her name in ‘Call the Midwife’ (2012-). Carey Mulligan stars as the titular avenging angel and caused controversy when a male reviewer claimed she wasn’t as sexy as Margot Robbie. Honestly, after watching ‘Promising Young Woman’, you might well believe that.
Mulligan is 30 year old medical dropout Cassie Thomas who lives with her parents. Years before, her classmate Al Monroe (Bo Burnham) raped her best friend Nina Fisher, but there was no investigation by the school or legal system. Now, Cassie spends her night faking being drunk and allowing men to take her home and reveals her sobriety when they try to take advantage of her.
On a positive front, this movie boasts some sparkling colours and a hip-hop soundtrack. The opening shots set in a nightclub feature an explosion of popping pinks, yellows and red hues. There’s Nina Simone on the soundtrack and ‘Here Come The Girls’ cooing into your living room. It’s all very funky stuff.
The negatives? There are a lot. Most crucially this movie has no idea whether it wants to be a serious movie about sexual assault and its concequences (which could have been really interesting in the #MeToo era) or a semi-man-hating, ‘Birds of Prey’-style revenge porn. There’s an awful lot of men getting beaten up and their parts blown off. That would be ok, but ‘Promising Young Woman’ insists on being a serious movie about rape which it just isn’t.
Carey Mulligan’s performance is a little too classy for this kind of role. I’m not saying the lead actress needed to be sexy necessarily, just a bit more trashy in her personality and image. Margot Robbie perfected this with her trash-talking, arse-kicking Harley Quinn in ‘Birds of Prey’ which was a far less serious movie and far more fun. I can’t understand why Mulligan has attracted so much awards attention for this performance. It all looks a bit like bad drag.
Does this movie glorify sexual assault on men and women? Not quite. But it’s neither smart, sexy or funny enough to really cut to the heart of the subject matter. I just found it a colossal bore.
‘Promising Young Woman’ is on Sky Cinema and Now TV now.
12A, 120 Mins
‘Minari’ is directed by Korean-American director Lee Isaac-Chung and is semi-autobiographically based on his upbringing in rural America. The year is 1983 and Korean immigrant boy David (Alan Kim) moves from California to a new plot of land in Arkansas. Here his father Jacob (Steven Yeun) hopes to grow Korean produce to sell to vendors in Dallas.
One of Jacob’s first decisions is to decline the services of a water diviner and digs a well in a spot he finds of his own. He enlists the help of local man and Korean War veteran Paul (Will Patton). Jacob is optimistic about his life ahead in Arkansas, but his wife Monica (Han Ye-Ri) is disappointed by it and worries about their son David’s heart condition. Jacob and Monica work sexing chicks at a local hatchery and argue continuously while David and his sister (Noel Kate Cho) eavesdrop…
There’s some remarkable similarities between this brilliant coming-of-age drama and Richard Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ (2014). These are especially evident in the opening scenes which see David looking out of a bus window as he moves into his new house. I imagined ‘Hero’ by Family of the Year - a ‘Boyhood’ classic - playing in the background. Like ‘Boyhood’, ‘Minari goes to suggest that growing up can be both fun (like when David picks for Minari plants) and scary (like in the tragic and terrifying film ending).
What this film has which ‘Boyhood’ doesn’t have is a culture clash element. I liked the relationship between Jacob and Korean War veteran Paul. The two men are at odds with each other as the latter was at war in the former’s country. They connect over small things like thatching the roof of Jacob’s new house and it’s a really nice friendship.
This film speaks from the heart about the immigrant experience and that’s evident in the bilingual mix of Korean and English which is lended to the dialogue. It’s also been a source of controversy as ‘Minari’ was not eligible for the Best Drama Golden Globes because it was 50% in Korean and only 50% in English. Thankfully it’s now been nominated for the Best Picture Oscar.
Steven Yeun gives a great performance as Jacob - bilingual, eloquent and insightful at the highs and lows of being an immigrant. I especially liked the relationship with his children.
Then there’s Han Ye-Ri as the grandmother who is amazing. She’s the beating heart and soul of the film - the ultra-conservative Korean matriarchal figure. But she also has a soft side which is exposed in her relationship with David. A scene where she picks the titular minari with him speaks and moves volumes.
‘Minari’ builds to an epic tragedy ending. It involves a house burning and grandmother trapped inside. The shot of the grandmother coming out of the burning building could easily have walked off the set of ‘Titus Andronicus’. Very powerful stuff.
‘Minari’ is topnotch Oscar viewing. A coming-of-age family drama with a big heart and lots of head. This is my favourite to win Best Picture. Wouldn’t it be great if another foreign language film won again?
‘Minari’ is on multiple platforms now.
Johnson has faced a lot of criticism for his handling of the pandemic. Last March, he told us “we’ll send Covid packing within 12 weeks” - only for the 1st lockdown to last 4 months. He became complacent last summer with the Eat-out-to-help-out scheme; claiming a 2nd lockdown would be disastrous only to impose a fragile and irresponsible tier system that was a lockdown missing only the name.
This didn’t stop there being an actual 2nd lockdown and it was a complete disaster. Schools were open when they should have been shut and most shops open for Click and Collect. The numbers still soared over the winter and yet Boris planned on giving us a 5-day window to meet over Christmas. That got cancelled the moment the numbers were against him.
It also didn’t stop there being a third lockdown which we are currently in and are now hopefully coming out of. The next 2 months and gradual, necessarily steady lifting of restrictions will be crucial to predicting Johnson’s Prime Ministerial legacy. If the country falls into a third wave and 4th lockdown, I doubt the public will be so forgiving. I doubt his party will be so forgiving for that matter. They might remove him and put Rishi Sunak at the top instead. He’s so far proved to be the wannabe star and most popular Tory politician this pandemic.
I’m reminded greatly now of Boris’ fragile situation and that of Gordon Brown in 2008. Brown was an iron-fisted Chancellor - Blair’s right hand man and the longest-serving one in post-war history. He desperately craved to be Prime Minister, but, when he finally got the job in 2007, he appeared to not know what to do with it. He chickened out of calling an early election which he probably would have won and there were massacres at the polls and accusations of incompetence.
Then came the financial crisis in 2008. “Crash Gordon” was what the Tories nicknamed him. He was widely blamed for not having the money or capacity to deal with the global credit crunch thanks to rampant overspending on welfare, healthcare and education. He was seen to have left Britain in its biggest debt for 300 years.
Brown was mocked by David Cameron when he had a slip of the tongue and said he “saved the world” instead of “saved the banks”. He didn’t do it alone - revitalizing the economy globally required a team effort from world leaders including Barack Obama and Angela Merkel. But nowadays Brown’s “save the world” mantra is widely considered to be true - he recapitalized the banks and got the global economy back to a healthy medium.
Like Brown, Boris is in charge of shepardeering the country through its worst crisis in centuries. We haven’t seen a global pandemic on this scale since the Spanish Flu - just like we hadn’t seen a financial crisis on the scale of the 2008 crash since the Wall Street crash of 1929.
And, like Brown, Boris has been hugely scrutinised and criticized for his handling of the crisis. I certainly think a bit less optimism and a bit more realism could have been needed to raise the morale of the nation. But then I think to myself, could I do any better?
Boris and Brown faced criticism and scrutiny in the moment because any leader tasked with revitalizing a nation wrecked by a juggernaut was going to receive so. The difference is that Brown is now widely considered a pariah once the crisis was over and the economy back on track. His pricey stimulus package is now considered the saviour of the nation.
Johnson ought to take note. If he gets his judgement right and gradually and steadily brings us out of lockdown within the next 2 months, he will be considered a post-war Prime Ministerial saviour. A Prime Minister mocked at the time of the crisis, but looked back upon as a man who really did save the nation...
Meet Roshan Chandy
Freelance film critic, journalist and writer based in Nottingham, UK. Specialises in cinema.
Roshan's Top 5 Films of the Week
2. Cruella (in cinemas)
3. After Love (in cinemas)
4. Dream Horse (in cinemas)
5. Frankie (in cinemas)
Follow Me on Twitter
*****Butter and Jam Toast
**** Jam Toast
*** Buttered Toast
** Bread and Butter
* Eggy Bread