Sunday, 2 October 2011

Man! I Feel Like A Danish Woman!

Have you any idea how strange it feels when, deep down, you know you'd really like to be a woman?

No no no - I'm not going through any kind of gender / identity / sexuality crisis. Nor is this some kind of drooling, pervy fantasy where I am an 18 year old lingerie model with the interior monologue of an Inbetweeners character. No, this is far more complex than that...

How often do you, and this is applicable to men and women; how often do you watch a film or TV series and think to yourself, "That female character - she's cool. I'd like to be like her." And no, I don't mean in the way that teens look at the Kardashians and say, "I'd like to have their fame, money, augmented busts and inconsequential lifestyle." I mean more in the way that you look at Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry and Gran Torino, or Bogart as Sam Spade, or Leslie Nielsen as Frank Drebin (okay, not so much - that's just a personal one) and you say to yourself, "He's cool. Despite his inherent character flaws, I'd quite like to be like him."

The list of flawed-but-idolised male lead characters is longer than the intro credits of a John Wayne western, but the number of similarly aspired-to female characters could be written in bubble letters of a single sheet of Lidl's basics-range toilet roll. Which is where my latest obsession comes in: DI Sarah Lund, from the Danish crime drama Forbrytelsen: The Killing.

Right now, I'm struggling to think of a comparable character - and if you can think of one, please leave a comment - but I think that Sarah Lund is, unbelievably, a completely original fictional character in film or TV. The fact that she is original is obviously completely outrageous, but I honestly can't think of any female lead to date who has displayed the characteristics that Lund possesses, which are normally associated with flawed-yet-heroic central male characters.

Let's think about the role of female characters in crime / action / thriller films and TV series. Without fail, they fulfill one of a few distinct roles:
  • They provide a romance interest to the main, male, lead (e.g. Franka Potente in The Bourne Identity, who ends up at the bottom of a river)
  • They are lovely, but helpless, weaklings in need of support or rescuing (e.g. Grace Kelly in Dial M for Murder)
  • They are dangerous femmes fatales, who are also in need of rescuing (e.g. Bacall in The Big Sleep; any Bond girl)
  • A flawed secondary character who serves to show how brilliant the male lead is (e.g. DS Gray in Luther)
  • Sometimes, they will actually be given some responsibility, but this usually ends up with them having to flirt information out of a drooling baddie (e.g. any Bond girl) or sometimes, just sometimes, they actually have to do something 'un-womanly', such as kill someone, but they'll normally do this whilst looking like they can't make up their mind whether to sleep with, or kill the poor sap (e.g. any Angelina Jolie action role).
Not since Frances McDormand in Fargo (who was still not allowed to be a hero without the responsibility of pregnancy) has there been such an stubborn, single-minded, independent female central character as Sarah Lund. It's also not as though her story is one of 'struggling against the odds in a male-dominated environment'; Sarah Lund isn't 'impressive considering she's a woman' - she's just impressive. Her identity as a woman is never even an issue during the series - she's not a man; she's not a woman. She's just a kick ass main character. So often, when we do come across a fictional woman who's been assigned 'male' attributes, the very fact that she's a woman is the central theme of the story - but not in this case.

A huge amount of credit for this must go to Sofie Gråbøl, who played the character and fought furiously to retain Lund's lack of reliance on any other character. At one point, it was mooted that the writers of the series were going to send Lund into an affair with the main male lead, at which point Gråbøl stormed into their office letting them know in no uncertain terms that this wasn't going to happen - pointing out that Clint Eastwood never needs a girlfriend.

The one thing that has become synonymous with Sarah Lund is her wardrobe. Whereas any British crime drama would without doubt have a female Detective Inspector strutting around in heels and a suit, Lund is never in anything but jeans and her customary cable-knit jumper. Although she's attractive, she has absolutely no need or wish to use it any way.

With Series 2 showing on BBC 4 soon, I can't wait to sit down for another 20 episodes and experience that novel feeling of watching a woman who, if I was still an impressionable teenager, would have me thinking, "When I grow up, I'm going to be like Sarah Lund." In fact, a large part of me still wants to, but I don't think the sweaters would suit me:

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