Ok, Ok, I know I complain a lot about the prevalence of serial killer shows on TV. But I am the first to admit that I am now hopelessly addicted to the BBC’s latest offering, The Fall.
Gillian Anderson is mesmerising as the chilly, intensely competent and slightly Asperger’s-ish ubertec. As soon as I saw the first episode, I was reminded of Helen Mirren’s brilliant portrayal of Jane Tennison in Prime Suspect. Both women have the brittleness that comes of years of enduring the hostility of men, and they both misunderstand and misuse their own sexual allure. Unfortunately, both are quite unrepresentative of real live women.
This is less surprising when you find out that Allan Cubitt, who wrote The Fall, also wrote Prime Suspect 2. In both, he gives us a central woman figure who, basically, does not behave like a woman. Though we do see the frail side of Jane Tennison – her drinking, her splintering relationships – at work she is fully in control. Gillian Anderson’s character seems to have no life outside her minimalist hotel room, though it is clear that she has notched up a fair number of lovers along the way.
I find both characters fascinating, precisely because they are so different from me and everyone I know. They are both, in truth, the ultimate male fantasy figures – women who are beautiful, sexually available, even predatory, but who have absolutely no interest or capability in sustaining relationships. They are never going to be on the phone asking why you’re late at the office. They will never nag at you to empty the bins or put up a picture. Jane Tennison would do it herself, knocking in the nails with her battered stiletto, while Gillian Anderson would simply glide to another perfect hotel room.
Meanwhile, back on planet Earth, the normal women are having much more normal lives. While in Prime Suspect the pile-up of dead women was largely incidental to the focus on Mirren and, of course, the suspect (always a man), in The Fall Allan Cubitt has taken the time to establish the victims as rounded characters. That means that the first victim, the solicitor, does normal things like get slightly tipsy with colleagues. As a result, the police are sceptical about her story of a break-in and a couple of days later, she is dead. Normal doesn’t get women very far, does it? In fact, in TV drama terms, being ‘normal’ – sociable, a tippler, someone who occasionally makes questionable decisions – means you will be stalked by pervs, spied on, threatened, tortured, murdered, posed, photographed and ultimately end up naked on the pathologist’s table, with everyone looking on.
In fact, women are punished for being normal, for having human frailties, while Tennison, Anderson, Lund and the like remain aloof and unassailed. It’s really quite annoying. I can’t help hearing strains of Henry Higgins’ famous complaint in Pygmalion, ‘Why can’t a woman be more like a man?’
I have tried boycotting these slasher dramas, I really have. But there’s nothing else very compelling on. I thought things were looking up with Scott and Bailey (brilliant, do watch it if you haven’t caught it before) but, gripped though I am, I think things are going downhill, albeit with brilliant acting and a completely enthralling script, with The Fall. There is one question though, that I do really want answered. Where does Gillian Anderson get her silk shirts? Particularly that wrap one from the last episode. I WANT.