It’s a rainy night or one where you just want to stay in and kick back with a good video, but finding one you like can be a little daunting given the wide array of choices. To help you along, I’ve compiled a list of my favorites with older female protagonists. Most of them are BBC series.
I find the British portrayals of older women more realistic than in the typical Hollywood versions. In the BBC series, Happy Valley and Broadchurch, the female leads tend to have lined faces and a few extra pounds. They dress like normal women and wear little to no makeup.
More importantly, these women are complicated, flawed and occupy great scripts as compared to the lightweight American Netflix series, Grace and Frankie staring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin.
While Grace and Frankie is entertaining, it’s not entirely realistic and often falls flat. The two female pals share a multi-million dollar beachfront home and tend to refer to aging in rather superficial terms. The best part of the series is the guest appearance of 88 year old Estelle Parsons (Season Two) whose character bravely and with flourish takes her own life rather than endure a fatal disease.
Happy Valley is a brilliant, suspenseful police drama (Netflix) set in a small British hamlet, starring 50- something Sarah Lancashire as Catherine Cawood, a tough, idealistic police sergeant who tends to alienate her co-workers with her brashness. Alternatively she is respected for her crime-busting skills.
In her private life, Catherine lives with her sister, Clare (Siobhan Finneran), a recovering alcoholic and heroin addict, who is helping her bring up Catherine’s young grandson, Ryan. At home Catherine is vulnerable, worrying about her grandson and keeping a careful watch on her sister when she is in danger of relapsing. The two sisters have a loving relationship, laced with humor and affection. They’re as real as it gets.
Charlotte Rampling, 70, a female lead in season two of Broadchurch, offers a similar combination of a steely on-the-job persona and a woman who lets her guard down in her private life.
Broadchurch, like Happy Valley is located in a small British village—this time a coastal one—and is another crime series. Rampling plays the part of a prosecution lawyer–complete with a barrister’s wig and robe– coming out of retirement to take on a case she appears to be winning until the plot twists.
For a change of pace, or if dark, edgy dramas aren’t your forte, there’s the BBC series, Call the Midwife.
While this is typical Masterpiece theater fare in its feel-good conclusions, it offers a realistic window into the changing face of birth control in Britain from the 1950’s up to the 1960’s. The New Yorker’s TV critic, Jeannette Catsoulis, praised it for “it’s emotional depth and daring.”
The midwives work and live with elderly nuns (all remarkably acted), serving poor women in London’s East End. The series gets high marks for its sensitive portrayals of poor women, who are worn down with their large broods and indifferent husbands.
In brief, I liked:
Top of the Lake (Netflix)
A Jane Campion thriller, starring Elizabeth Moss of Mad Men. In a wild role, 60ish Holly Hunter plays a feminist cult leader, rehabilitating women who have been mistreated by men.
Catastrophe (Amazon Prime)
A hilarious BBC series about an early 40’s couple that gets pregnant after a one-week tryst between a Boston ad executive in London on a conference who meets a London schoolteacher in a bar. The writing is fresh and laugh out loud funny. I was totally charmed by the two leads.
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