IN PRAISE OF...
La Femme Fatale
Beginning with Eve’s temptation of Adam in the Garden of Eden, the exploits of La Femme Fatale have disturbed, fascinated, and beguiled us. Whether it’s the mythological enchantress, the scheming Jezebel, or the plucky heroine, La Femme Fatale has become an enduring staple of popular culture.
In the mid 20th century, Hollywood film producers recognised the trope’s potential and some of history’s most memorable Femmes Fatales were spectacularly brought to life on the silver screen.
But it wasn’t all glitz and glamour. The Femme Fatale had evolved, and when film noir took Hollywood by storm in the 1930’s and 40’s, audiences were smitten with a new, urbane incarnation.
Fast forward to the latter part of the last century, and the big screen gave us the first femmes fatales as action heroes as well as the dangerous temptress’ of the 1980’s and 90’s erotic thrillers.
Left to right: Glamour: Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra (1963). Noir: Lauren Bacall as Vivian Rutledge (The Big Sleep 1946). Action Heroine: Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley (Alien movies 1979-1997). Temptress: Sharon Stone as Catherine Tramell (Basic Instinct 1992).
Enter THE GOLDEN AGE OF TELEVISION, and what a wonderful, welcome revolution it has been! With so many creative talents choosing to work in the small screen medium, the quality of the drama has been outstanding. Great concepts, extraordinary script writing, and terrific roles for women in that irresistible of all tropes, La Femme Fatale.
Here’s my top ten personal favourites over the last decade:
Keri Russell as Elizabeth Jennings (The Americans FX)
In this critically acclaimed drama, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings (Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys) are The Americans, a typical middle class suburban family, running their own travel agency business and raising their two children. But all of this is a charade as Philip and Elizabeth are living a double life as Russian spies, secretly carrying out a series of missions on behalf of their masters in Moscow.
Trained in all aspects of combat and spycraft, Elizabeth is a master of disguise and a cold blooded assassin. But Elizabeth is also a mother devoted to her children and ultimately loyal to her husband despite the contrived nature of the couple’s marriage.
Keri Russell plays Elizabeth with a gut wrenching grit. Frequently torn between her loyalty to her country and her American family, Elizabeth never holds back, completing each new assignment with a clinical ruthlessness, and doing whatever it takes to keep her family safe and her true identity a secret.
A former Golden globe winner (1999), Keri Russell has been three times Emmy nominated for The Americans. 2018 will surely be the year she gets the accolades she so richly deserves.
Elizabeth Jennings [The Americans] - I'll Know My Name
Keeley Hawes as Detective Inspector Lindsay Denton (Line of Duty BBC2)
Line of Duty has become one the most popular British cop shows of all time. Writer/Creator Jed Mercurio’s intense, unpredictable drama has had viewers precariously perched on the edge of their seats from the get-go.
After a highly successful season one, enter Detective Inspector Lindsay Denton (Keeley Hawes), a high ranking cop accused of corruption. Is she innocent as she claims or is she the morally bankrupt officer depicted by the force’s anti-corruption unit, AC12?
Keeley Hawes gives a peerless performance as Denton, a complex, multi-faceted character, doggedly determined to prove her accusers wrong and clear her name of the charges levelled against her. Even as the season ends we’re still – tantalisingly – unsure of her guilt or innocence.
In what became one of TV’s best kept secrets, DI Denton returned for season three – much to the surprise and delight of fans – and the true nature of her character was finally revealed.
It’s an absolute tour de force from Keeley Hawes, she dominates the screen in every scene; you just can’t take your eyes off her. Simply brilliant.
Strangely, I couldn’t find any fan vids of either Keeley Hawes or Line of Duty – anyone?
Here’s the – woefully short – season two trailer:
Archie Punjabi as Kalinda Sharma (The Good Wife CBS)
A classy, sophisticated court room drama series might not be an obvious setting for a dangerous Femme Fatale, but The Good Wife’s law firm investigator, Kalinda Sharma, is up there with the best of them.
Dressed in her trademark designer leathers, Kalinda goes looking for where the bodies are buried, and she has an uncanny knack for unearthing the truth even if it means bending the rules to get there. Seduction is chief among her weapons of choice, and failing that, there’s always a trusty baseball bat to persuade the disobliging.
Archie Punjabi plays the quietly spoken, overtly bi-sexual Kalinda, with a perfectly imagined understated menace, winning her an Emmy award for best supporting actress in 2010.
Kalinda Sharma (The Good Wife) - She bangs
Maggie Q as Nikita Mears (Nikita CW)
Nikita gives us not one femme fatale but three. Russian heiress Alex (Lindsay Fonseca) and the evil Amanda (Melinda Clarke) are formidable characters in their own right, but it’s Maggie Q’s Nikita that keeps this frenetic, action packed show on the road and it’s one hell of a ride.
Nikita’s mission is to expose the criminal secrets of “Division,” the covert organisation that turned her into an assassin and ruthlessly eliminated the man she loved. Division dispatches its agents to hunt her down but the ingenious Nikita is always one step ahead of the hired guns.
But Nikita is more than just a finely tuned combat athlete. Maggie Q’s performance is poignant in the tender moments, and as the surrogate mother of a growing band of outlaws, she takes care of her own with a passionate ferocity.
Maggie Q is magnificent, even performing her own stunts and generally working her butt off in one super dynamic performance after another. Sensational.
Nikita, Ready or not here I come
Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison (Homeland Showtime)
In the shadow of 9/11, Showtime’s spy drama, Homeland – nine seasons and counting – gives us an unlikely heroine. Carrie Mathison is no ordinary CIA operative. Not only is she an intuitive genius but Carrie is bi-polar, a condition which serves to sharpen her edge and simultaneously threatens her precarious sanity.
In the pressure cooker world of counter-terrorism, Carrie is as dedicated an agent as they come, but her poor impulse control and tendency to act unilaterally gets her into constant strife with her agency superiors.
As Carrie – and the nation – stagger from one crisis to another, the casualties mount up, loyalties are questioned, and loved ones are left behind.
Claire Danes gives it everything she’s got, portraying an obsessive and ultimately flawed spy who sacrifices herself in the line of duty. Two consecutive Emmys and two consecutive Golden Globes (2012-2013) are testament to the exceptional level of her performance.
Ivana Miličević as Carrie Hopewell/Anastasia (Banshee Cinemax)
Has there ever been a more kick-ass female lead than Banshee’s Carrie Hopewell?
In hiding from her Ukranian drug lord father, Anastasia (Carrie) has established a new identity in the small town of Banshee where she has married a local attorney and is quietly raising her two children. Enter her old flame, Lucas Hood (Antony Starr), who has opportunistically assumed the identity of the town’s deceased sheriff.
Things get complicated; loyalties divided. Carrie finds herself reluctantly caught up in Sheriff Hood’s law enforcement conflicts with the locals and boy does she clean up in the fight scenes! Not even the pugnacious Hood can best her.
Ivana Miličević lays it all on the line in an unparalleled display of raw power and visceral sexuality. Stunning.
Banshee - Carrie Hopewell (Anastasia)
Eva Green as Vanessa Ives (Penny Dreadful Showtime)
The squalor and the glamour of gothic Victorian London are vividly brought to life by creator John Logan in Penny Dreadful, a riveting reimagining of the Dracula/Frankenstein/Werewolf ensemble.
Eva Green is the troubled clairvoyant, Vanessa Ives, recruited to assist the team of demon hunters led by Sir Malcolm Murray (Timothy Dalton). But as the crew go hunting for monsters in the darkest depths of the city, Vanessa is battling the demons within as well as the more extraneous variety.
It’s often been said that Eva Green could make reading the phone book sound interesting, but it’s not just that sexy, slightly rasping voice, but the whole range of the actor’s emotional and intellectual intensity. Ms Green is mesmerising as the vulnerable, terrifying, and ultimately cursed Vanessa, a woman struggling to come to terms with her crisis of faith and determined to fight off the demons that seek to possess her. A breathtaking performance.
Vanessa Ives | Bring me to life
Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall (Outlander Starz)
World War Two is over and battle weary field nurse, Claire Randall, reunites with her British officer husband for a romantic holiday in the Scottish Highlands. Next thing you know Claire is magically transported back in time to the 18th century and falls in with a bunch of Jacobite desperadoes led by the dashing Jamie (Sam Heughan).
Claire’s fish-out-of-water predicament creates some gripping tension as well as some sharp-tongued humour. A damsel in distress she may be, but this sassenach quickly proves she can look after herself. Not only does she shock the local die-hards with her uncompromising language, she proves to be quite adept with a sgian dubh, the hidden dagger she keeps concealed under her skirts.
A three times golden globe nominee (2016-2018), Caitriona Balfe is splendid as the fiercely intelligent Claire, the classy English lady with the cut glass accent; a woman not to be trifled with. Claire Fraser † Dear God
Gillian Anderson as Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson (The Fall BBC)
Struggling to solve a series of brutal murders, the Belfast police are assigned a special investigative officer from New Scotland Yard. Enter the phlegmatic sleuth, Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson.
Gibson’s secondment is not without controversy as the Detective proceeds to shock her patriarchal male colleagues with the uninhibited nature of her bi-sexuality and some pretty frank politically charged statements to the press:
That’s what really bothers you, isn’t it? The one night stand. Man f***s woman. Subject man, verb f***s, object woman. That’s okay. Woman f***s man. Woman subject, man object. That’s not so comfortable for you, is it?
British Screenwriters' Award winner (2015) Allan Cubitt weaves a sinister pshyco-sexual tale of cat and mouse between the killer (Jamie Dornan) and the police officer determined to bring him to justice.
Gillian Anderson is superb as the immaculate, ice cold Stella, a dedicated cop of great personal courage, fearlessly building her case against a lethal psychopath. Stella Gibson | A character tribute
Nicola Walker as Ruth Evershed (Spooks BBC)
For the greater part of the BBC’s long running drama Spooks, the gifted – and much loved – Ruth Evershed is a key intelligence analyst, a desk jockey confined to base where she gathers together the critical strands of information so vital in the war against domestic terrorism.
But there’s much more to Ruth than her endearing modest charm and the keen perception of her razor sharp mind. Finding herself thrown into the field, Ruth is surprisingly adept as an undercover operative and proves her inner steel when she unhesitatingly guns down a hired assassin in the line of duty.
Whatever character she plays, Nicola Walker brings a genuine empathy and warmth to all of her roles and the self-effacing Ruth is no exception.
Ruth is perhaps best summed up by the show’s corrupt British Home Secretary, Nicholas Blake (Robert Glenister) when he is confronted with his crimes by MI5 chief Sir Harry Pearce (Peter Firth):
Blake: 'How did you find out?'
Sir Harry: 'Ruth.'
Blake: 'That dogged brilliant bitch.' Spooks Ruth series 9