Sunday, 28 December 2014

Sex and the Citadel

The portrayal of women on tv - there's a subject that invites a rant but it's Christmas so I'm reserving the ranting for subjects closer to home (or, more accurately, in the home). 

The type of show I've been musing on through the post Christmas fog is the one which takes women and their relationships (with friends as important if not more so than the romantic variety) as the driver and how the presentation of these shift with each generation. For my mother it was the madcap mugging of I Love Lucy or the girl in the big city/isn't she daring approach of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. For my daughter it's the much less radical than it thinks Girls or the far more subversive (and my current obsession) The Mindy Project. And for my lot? It can only be Sex and the City...

This series was as equally compulsive as it was infuriating, largely because of its central character Carrie Bradshaw - a pot of Marmite in a size zero dress, read this Buzzfeed article if you need a distilled guide to her most infuriating points.

It's not a series that endures but it did bring together four fascinating characters - yes each one individually might have been a stereotype but the ensemble worked, possibly I admit because you couldn't hate all of them all of the time so there was always at least one plot-line to restore your sanity.

So this started me thinking, in that strange way you do in this holiday hinterland when the rules shift, about who else would fit the roles made infamous by Carrie and her clan. And it seemed to me that if I can accept cake as an acceptable breakfast food and a chocolate orange as one of my 5 a day, it is but a small shift to start re-casting Sex in the City with some of the historical women who move in and out of the research that plays such a key part in scoping out my novels and distracting me from real life.

So let's suspend time-lines (I write historical fiction, this is my idea of anarchy), substitute small beer for a skinny latte and fabulous jewelry for Prada bags (does this thought even need a comment) and go with me...

Miranda was my starting point. Tall, red-headed, career-driven, one son who is pretty much absent for most of the time and truly crap taste in men. Steve, really? Once was bad enough but to keep going back to him...I'd pretty much decided it on the hair and height alone but bad decision-making presented as romance settled the choice so I give you as the first of our historical foursome, Mary Queen of Scots.

The casting of  Samantha was also fairly uncontested. A cartoonish character in terms of her predatory approach to men but paradoxically also the one who, in the series at least (let us collectively destroy all memory of the films), suggested a personality hidden beneath the cliches when given tougher story-lines. So step forward Elizabeth Woodeville - an older woman who 'enchanted' a younger man, a great beauty and clearly no fool when it came to political survival. A medieval player with more than pearl necklaces in common with our Manhattan cougar.

The hardest one was Charlotte - so bland she's invisible. In some ways that makes her easy - there are so many women who have come down to us as names and nothing more I probably had the most choice here. That was tempting but too easy so let's distill Charlotte down - no real role, an all-encompassing fear of being 'left-on-the-shelf because she's getting old (aka not 21 anymore), obsessed with having a child and rather easily forgotten. My choice? Jane Seymour- if she hadn't married Henry VIII (and she didn't do that until the relatively late age of 28) and, let's be honest here, died in the act of giving him a son (fulfilling at least the baby-making reason for marrying her), she would have been invisible to history. Case made.

So to the Queen Bee, who gets to be Carrie? I thought about this a lot (far too much to be healthy probably) and played around with a few options including Marie Antoinette but decided I'd been over-influenced there by the Kirsten Dunst movie (don't judge me, I liked it). And then I got it - Anne Boleyn. Examine the case - she was very fashion-forward (French hoods, long sleeves and the inappropriate wearing of yellow); had a poet in love with her who at a stretch was a bit Aidany; was self-centred enough to change a country's religion and held out all those years for a man who was big...

There is plenty of crazy in televsion historical drama. I watched in hysterics at the increasing madness of The Tudors, I laughed along with Caitlin Moran at the mounting anachronisms in The White Queen and I stand in horrified awe of what American television has done with Mary Queen of Scots in Reign. I am therefore confidently expecting to be in script development for Sex and the Citadel anytime soon...

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