Screen queens: the women we love to watch on TV

— by Alyson Walsh

Olivia Colman in Fleabag

The dark political days drag on but fortunately there’s plenty of comedy on telly right now to to counteract the despair. Fleabag is back  – and everyone’s in it. Fiona Shaw plays a therapist to Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s flawed-but-relatable anti-heroine (Fleabag). And this week Kristen Scott Thomas made an appearance as an award-winning ‘woman in business’, giving a standout speech on being a woman that ended with, ‘We have it all going on in here inside, we have pain on a cycle for years and years and years and then just when you feel you are making peace with it all, what happens? The menopause comes, the fucking menopause comes, and it is the most wonderful fucking thing in the world….And yes, your entire pelvic floor crumbles and you get fucking hot and no one cares, but then you’re free, no longer a slave, no longer a machine with parts. You’re just a person.’

Multi-talented producer/writer/actor Waller-Bridge is the eponymous cafe-owner often found arching a suggestive eyebrow at the audience, and using sex as a distraction as she attempts to hide her grief in the wake of her best friend’s death. This season sees Andrew Scott join the cast as the gin-in-a-tin-drinking, hot priest, alongside malignant stepmother-in-waiting (Olivia Colman), brittle sister Claire (Sian Clifford) and toxic brother-in-law Martin (Brett Gelman). Apparently Colman told Waller-Bridge she’d ‘love to play a real bitch’ according to the TV show’s producer, Lydia Hampson, during an interview with Radio Times, and Waller-Bridge exclaimed, ‘I’ve got it!.’ Colman is genius as Fleabag’s soon-to-be step-mum with her cutting remarks, passive aggression and ‘sexhibitionism’.

Phoebe Waller Bridge as Fleabag

Mr TNMA and I have just binge-watched Sex Education – a heartwarming, hilarious and gloriously frank series from Netflix. Initially, I wasn’t that keen on the idea of a programme about the sex lives of teenagers, but the series covers more than that, everything from family relationships and friendship groups, to diversity and sexuality. Gillian Anderson is superb as the single mum, sex therapist, Jean. The show focuses on her son Otis as he negotiates his own insecurities around the opposite sex and ends up running a sex therapy clinic for his classmates, together with Maeve the smartest girl at Mooredale High School. Gillian Anderson spends most of the series wafting around in a robe, spying on her son and having one-off sexual encounters with men she’s not really that interested in. There’s a lot to like about her bohemian wardrobe, too – an array of jumpsuits (including this sell-out Finery one), wafty dresses, silky blouses and colourful scarves. As one reader commented on a recent That’s Not My Age post, her embroidered yellow robe deserves it’s own credit as a cast member.

Gillian Anderson in Sex Education


Of course, Waller-Bridge was also responsible for adapting Killing Eve (based on the Villanelle novels written by Luke Jennings) into a screenplay, and says she is drawn to women who are ‘transgressive’ and who flip expectations, fearless female characters with a dark sense of humour. Anyone who has seen Killing Eve can attest to the violent, darkly comic storyline; as the sadistic killer and MI5 officer become obsessed with hunting each other down in a game of international cat and mouse. Main characters Sandra Oh (Eve), Fiona Shaw (Carolyn) and Jodie Comer (Villanelle), don’t conform to gender stereotypes, or even genre stereotypes, in this standout series.

Killing Eve storyboard via Grazia

And although it’s finished (for good), I couldn’t do a TV Screen Queen round-up without mentioning Sharon Horgan, co-creator and star of the utterly fantastic sitcom, Catastrophe. One of the funniest, most honest comedy’s I’ve ever seen. Or giving Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin’s Grace & Frankie, a shout-out. The pair (friends in real life) are wonderful as 70-something housemates thrown together when their husbands declare a long-term love affair. Season five is now available.

Female writers, producers, creators and actors are having a real moment. Now more than ever, we need these narratives, we need funny, truthful and relatable female commentaries, written by women with female actors at the forefront. It’s great to be talking and laughing about motherhood, sisterhood, sex, relationships, friendship, ageing, success and failure. And exposing the (often uncomfortable) truths about what it is to be a woman today. TV has become a feminist force. And it’s fantastic.


Inspired by the bohemian style of our favourite TV Queens:

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The dark political days drag on but fortunately there’s plenty of comedy on telly right now to to counteract the despair. Fleabag is back  – and everyone’s in it.