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Exploring the rise of the anti-heroine in British Indie films

Girls just wanna have fun

Once upon a time, the artistic role of the British actress was confined to the Bond girl type-A: busty and blonde, and affectionately astounded by the attention of the leading man. But times have changed. A new female character has emerged, especially in the landscape of the British Indie film. That would be the type-B, or the type-R (rebellious, rueful, and deliciously R-rated). Where studios still prefer their action-women to bewitch opponents with attractive thigh-grabs and leather holsters, these darker, bolder, and amoral British Indie characters are a welcome kick in the establishment’s teeth. Let’s explore some of the anti-heroines who are taking over the British Indie film scene.

Terrible Tina: the mild villain

In the film Sightseers, hapless tourist Tina finds herself sinking into darker hidden depths – and we’re not just talking about the water in her wellies. After an excruciating run-in with some snobs on their holidays, Tina (a brilliantly twitchy Alice Lowe) and her husband Chris (Steve Oram) find that committing murder is sometimes simpler than British small talk in the rain. Sweet to start with, and creepy as her reproachful stares linger, Tina may not do all the dirty work, but she’s certainly happy to dig herself out of a hole by digging someone else into one.

Rose: the best of a bad bunch

Don’t you hate it when someone upsets you and then calls out your response as an ‘overreaction’. Wild Target’s Rose – a decadent and dangerous creation from the minds of sass queen Emily Blunt and quirky Clue Director Jonathan Lynn – also hates gaslighting. She especially hates it when the men trying to assassinate her for the small crime of a con, call her out of control.

But Rose is in control. She is in control when she masterminds an extravagant getaway in a smashed up vehicle with her would-be-killer, she is in control when she loots candy for her befuddled posy of protectors, and she in control, at the end of the day, when the gun – and everyone’s fate – is in her hands.

Moll: the tortured monster

Michael Pearce retells the Beauty and the Beast in his feature film, Beast – a whimsical whodunnit with more than a touch of Brothers Grimm in it. The main character, Jessie Buckley, charms and wounds in the role of a brooding neighbourhood loner, Moll. But Moll bears a secret so dreadful her family don’t know what to do with her, leaving her to mope until she stumbles across a like-minded soul, and potential partner in crime, Pascal.

The ‘tortured monster’ character is usually a male archetype, such as the ‘mad, bad, and dangerous’ 19th century English poet Lord Byron – the seminal twisted Romantic. Here, Buckley proves Byronic brooding is fit for any gender – wandering the moors and sandbanks around her house and taking out her hate towards humanity with unhinged passion. In Beast, a lot of fairytale tropes are intricately woven – from the missing and slaughtered girls that desolate Moll’s seaside hometown, to an overbearing matriarch who wants to lock her away (for own good, or for others?), to a mysterious lover who may be more than he seems. At the centre of this brooding storm is Moll, the most vicious, terrifying, and righteous girl to come of age yet.

Eve: the neutral evil

In Only Lovers Left Alive, the scariest thing about Tilda Swinton’s iconic vampire is the heartless chill of her villainy. She sports a head of bleached hair, avoids sunlight with some groovy shades, and sucks on blood pop-sickles to put the cool in ghoul. You might even forget she would just as easily rip you open and drink you down as a bottle of chardonnay; people are just something she sips on while listening to her record collection – no hard feelings. Even Dracula wishes he had her attitude.

Val and Lou: the enlightened killers

Staten Eliot’s A Serial Killer’s Guide To Life accumulates the best (or worst?) qualities of the ‘new’ anti-hero. This duo charm their victims to Hell and (not quite) back, proving that there is sheer entertainment value in nasty women flexing their rage and wielding their wicked attention. Val and Lou (the immaculately funny and fierce duo of Poppy Roe and Katie Brayben) are the perfect new-wave anti-heroines that have started to – thankfully – emerge in dark British comedies.

Val and Lou are at the end of their rope with ‘female empowerment’. While homicide is a touch far, the satirical point is loud and clear. They might be onto something with their mad rebellion against parts of the ‘self-help’, ‘wellness’, or ‘self-improvement’ communities, who still hold onto the idea of a woman who is: zen, maternal, fun, fit, clever, quiet, patient, purposeful, flirty, deep, physically immaculate, a CEO, a mother, a beach-bod, a chef, outspoken, soft-spoken, not shallow but shallow enough to buy a product… you get the idea. That person – unattainable yet overtly encouraged – might just be who Val and Lou are really taking a stab at. This life-coach and her protegee are guilty-as-charged gurus, doing their best to beat the answer out of life (literally) with blunt instruments. See them in a road-trip that takes highway to hell to another level.

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