Sunday, 25 January 2015

This (Mama's) Life

This Life: What happened to the women?
January. When everyone gives up eating, drinking and spending money, and the only thing that can possibly brighten up your day is a brilliant new television series to obsess over.

At least, that would explain the incredible excitement in the UK last week over the
BBC's dramatisation of Wolf Hall. Not to disparage the beautifully acted drama, based on Hilary Mantel's excellent novels -- it's set to be a classic. But I'm not going to review it here - plenty of others have done that. This is about something else.

I spotted, amongst the cast, the actress Natasha Little, who played Rachel in This Life back in the 90s, when that show was the one we were all talking about. For those who didn't watch it, the show was about a bunch of 20 something trainee lawyers sharing a flat in London. A sort of anarchic, UK version of Friends, but with more drama than comedy, and which explored issues such as drugs, promiscuity, gay sex and infidelity.

In Wolf Hall, Little was playing a relatively small part, Cromwell's wife, who (spoiler alert) succumbs to early death in episode 1. She'd been a big name in her day, memorably taking the lead role in Vanity Fair a few years after This Life. That got me thinking about the other female stars of This Life. Where were Amiti Dhiri (Milly) and Daniela Nardini (Anna) now? Some of the male actors have gone on to have highly successful careers: in particular Andrew "Egg" Lincoln, who now plays the lead role in The Walking Dead. (I never could quite get my head round that). Jack Davenport, who played Miles, starred in films like Pirates of the Caribbean and the comedy Coupling  and has acted in numerous US television series.

I googled Dhiri and Nardini and found they'd had perfectly respectable careers, playing roles in series like The Bill and Judge John Deed. But unlike their male counterparts, they hadn't become major stars. And yet they -- along with Natasha Little - were just as good, if not better actors than the men. So what happened? Why, of course they've all had had time off to have children.

So it seems the acting world is just like any other profession. As I was discussing with a friend and ex-colleague the other day, all the brilliant women I've worked with are doing just OK, whereas almost all the men have risen, almost effortlessly, to top jobs just by virtue of being there all the time. (There is light at the end of the tunnel in journalism, though -- the Economist has just appointed its first female editor, Zanny Minton Beddoes, and there are rumours the Guardian will do likewise).

Maybe this is what we need to be shouting about, rather than the fact that so many top British actors are privately educated. I hope all the luminous young female actors in Wolf Hall are just starting out on their brilliant careers, and that they've gone stratospheric by the time they're 40. Not reduced to a role so small they don't even make it to the official Wikipedia cast list.


Nota Bene said...

I'm going to restrict myself to saying I used to love This Life. I quite enjoyed Wolf Hall, and do wish I'd recognised Mrs Cromwell before she died.

Expat mum said...

A lot of actresses and musicians complain of sexism in those industries.

Muddling Along said...

Great post - I don't know if I am noticing it more or things are getting worse but, and this may be skewed by my own experience, it does feel as if equality has gone backwards during the credit crunch years

About Last Weekend said...

Just googled the heck out of that show - and you know - i cannot remember it, it was my renting flats days and maybe I did not have a tv, or maybe I was traveling.
Interesting that you've noticed that - what about that actress in Pride and Prejudice who was awesome -and yet Colin Firth is now major.
Or the female characters in any given Hugh Grant vehicle?
One of my friends in London was an actress and she made it into a good few things on telly, and got offered a part on Star Trek if she lost 15 ibs but she could not do it in time. Mostly though she worked the front desk in a gym handing out towels.