(Belated) Advent Blog Day 14: Strong Female Television Leads, including Dickinson/The Great

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Taking subject matter in an entirely new direction, I turn my attention temporarily to television drama (of sorts).

In recent times (for almost two years and for the most personal of reasons) I have paid only limited attention to the output of television, turning to it mainly for news and information. But gradually I have returned a little bit at a time to watching television, seeking out the more dramatic as well as the relaxing and entertaining aspects.

In recent weeks I acquired a free subscription to Apple TV and, although I am still not letting tv take over in the way it used to, a few things have whetted my appetite.

Something which was becoming fashionable prior to my sabbatical from television has grown in dominance but I have identified a change, which I am sure is present now in many outlets but I am going to drill down to two very particular examples of drama series which have taken my eye.

The trend I have identified in recent years is the strong female lead but it tended to turn up mainly in gritty crime/detective series and the like. However, the two examples which caught my attention recently could not be further removed from such roles.

I refer to two colourful, high production value, costume drama period pieces of a very particular type. As my television bandwidth is pretty narrow (Freeview and now Apple TV) there may be more examples but I refer to one from terrestrial tv, The Great (Channel 4, Sundays) and one other, Dickinson on Apple TV (new episodes each Friday).

For anyone who doesn’t know what it’s about, The Great is described as a comedy period drama and ‘an occasionally true story’ of the marriage of Catherine (later to become the Great) to the Emperor Peter III (the not-so-great) of Russia. It is lots of fun most of the time (and a tad ribald, Certificate 18+) but, without giving away any spoilers, I recently saw episode 5 which was unsparing in its depiction of the heartlessness and pointlessness of war. Horrible things happen in other episodes too but that particular episode got to me.

I think the only other part of a comedy series that had a similar effect on me was the finale of Blackadder Goes Fourth.

There, however, the similarity ends. In The Great we have a female lead in Elle Fanning who, even with a strong and talented cast around her, is the fascinating centre of attention. She does not over-act. The camera loves her face which is a thing of wonder whether expressing amusement, sadness, puzzlement, passion or disappointment. She is also an executive producer of all 10 episodes.

Dickinson stars Hailee Steinfield as Emily Dickinson, the reclusive poet. As with Elle Fanning in The Great, Hailee Steinfield’s face dominates this production. As with The Great, a fabulous cast of actors and high production value in sets, lighting, sound and camera work surround but do not dominate the presence of Steinfield in the central role. As with Elle in The Great, Hailee is one of the executive producers of Dickinson.

She sometimes underplays or is completely still as befits the character she plays, yet effortlessly holds the viewer’s attention. The fact she sometimes underplays has the effect of increasing the comedy or dramatic impact when she does let herself go, either in her imagination or in comedic situations such as last week’s visit to a spa.

I could go on at length but really wanted to focus just on the strength of these female lead roles.

Before closing, the only other matter I shall mention is the music and dialogue. I don’t know if this is something liberated by the spirit of Hamilton – the Musical, but in both these series I have noticed a crossover between music and something more contemporary, including hip-hop. The dialogue is of a similar hybrid.

I do recommend you catch both shows if you haven’t already done so.

And, with that, I bid you farewell on current television meandering, with the reminder that there are just two of these daily blog posts to go, to complete the belated Advent Blog series. Then there will be just weekly blogs for the foreseeable…what am I saying? Nothing is foreseeable!

Bye for now.

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