They are formidable. They are fierce. Sometimes they’re murderous, and often they’re mothers. And they’re not young: no fresh-faced teens, perplexed millennials or dewy newlyweds in this bunch. These women, on shows such as Killing Eve, Ozark and The Good Fight, have seen some life. They have the scars, physical and emotional, to prove it. And they can do some damage.
Once upon a time, the range of roles available to middle-aged women on TV was limited. They might be cast as wise-cracking secretaries, devoted wives, nosy neighbours or meddling mothers-in-law. When actresses hit 40, romantic leads were out, action heroines were unthinkable and the future seemed to hold a screen life consigned to the margins.
Not any more. A new and exciting breed of female characters has emerged. Today, TV offers a range of alternatives to women no longer of the age to play blushing brides, new mums or hot girlfriends, characters focused on activities more challenging than bringing errant sons-in-law into line. In this time of proliferating production companies and streaming services, writers have welcome latitude: options are expanding and so are roles for women “of a certain age”.
Take, for example, the third-season arrival of Dasha (Harriet Walter) as the new handler for girlish assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer) in Killing Eve (Sunday, ABC, 9.30pm, iView). There’s a scene in the third episode where the women are sitting at a cafe in a sunny town square in Spain. Villanelle’s former trainer and mentor, Russian Dasha is, of course, smoking as the women discuss Villanelle’s next assignment in London. Villanelle is reluctant to go, Dasha is dismissive of her concerns: “All you need is an anorak and a face like cheese,” she instructs.
To the meeting, Villanelle has brought a baby whose mother and nanny she’s just executed with a tuning fork — because this is Killing Eve. Villanelle treats the baby as a cute accessory. But when the child won’t stop fussing, Dasha picks her up, walks across the square, plops her in a rubbish bin and, without a backward glance, returns to the table and resumes the conversation.