Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The New Action Women

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The New Action Women

Article excerpt

Byline: Nick Curtis

FOR fans of strong women on screen, it is a golden era. As we mourn the passing from our screens of Homeland's Carrie Mathison and The Killing's Sarah Lund, along comes a batch of heroines in battledress. Tomorrow night, there is Sidse Babett Knudsen as Danish prime minister Birgitte Nyborg in the second series of the compelling Danish political drama Borgen, addressing her nation's troops in Afghanistan in a flak jacket and fatigues before getting caught in an insurgent attack. With her is the journalist Katrine Fonsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen), who has mutated from a blondely groomed TV anchor-Barbie into a hard-boiled, khaki-clad tabloid news reporter.

And here is Jessica Chastain, steely in Aviator shades, no-nonsense ponytail and desert gear, as Maya, the CIA operative who leads the hunt for and planned assassination of Osama bin Laden in Hurt Locker director Kathryn Bigelow's new film Zero Dark Thirty. Maya is based on a real-life figure who, when she and her team were given a service award for their action, sent an email to her bosses and colleagues explaining why some of them simply didn't deserve it. "She's not Miss Congeniality," a male colleague told the Washington Post, "but that's not going to find Osama bin Laden." Similarly in the film, when a senior figure undercuts her authority with a dismissive "who's she?", Maya responds with the words: "I'm the motherf***er who found this place." Tough as Maya is, though, there are moments when the strain tells on her. "Just because she's trained to be unemotional and analytically precise doesn't mean she's unemotional," Chastain said in a recent press conference, "and what I loved so much about the script is we do see moments where she falters."

So women in the warzone are the new role models, getting the job done with less fuss and bluster than the men, and often despite carrying more baggage than the conventional masculine hero. What makes the new breed of fictional heroines so compelling is that they are not superhuman but assailed by real-life problems -- bad temper, broken relationships, childcare issues and everyday sexism -- which they surmount.

As so often in recent years, Carrie from Channel 4's Homeland was the trailblazer. Suffering from bipolar disorder, sexually erratic, and distrusted by her bosses as unreliable, Carrie's combination of intuition and tradecraft brought her closer than her colleagues to thwarting Abu Nazir's terror plot. She also rocked a headscarf in the field. Carrie represented more of a breakthrough than Sarah Lund, which is not to take anything away from the tremendous performance of Sofie Grabol in the part. But the archetype of the flawed, monomaniac female cop goes back at least as far as Prime Suspect's Jane Tennison.

Later this year the BBC delivers two more female cops in top-rank dramas: Gillian Anderson in The Fall, and Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss in Top of the Lake (the latter helmed by Jane Campion, one of the few women alongside Bigelow battling in the frontline of the institutionally sexist world of film directing). …

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