The Fall

the fallMy husband and I recently got hooked on the BBC series The Fall, which stars Gillian Anderson of X Files fame.

It is really excellent. The kind of subtle, emotional and thought-provoking crime drama that I really love and think the BBC does particularly well. It is also extremely well filmed.

I live in Australia, and I understand from Edie, because we’ve had quite a few conversations about it, that Miss Phryne Fisher’s Murder Mysteries are available in the US now. Miss Fisher is a crime drama set in Melbourne, Australia in the 1920s (with absolutely GORGEOUS costumes).

The connection between Miss Fisher and The Fall? Both have a female lead character, but what is more, both characters are unashamed of their sexuality and call men on their assumptions of the proper way for women to behave when it comes to sexual desire.

In Miss Fisher’s case, it’s obviously the 1920s, after WWI when life was lived as if there would be no tomorrow, and that comes across in Phryne Fisher’s attitudes. She is hedonistic after the trauma she experienced as an ambulance driver in WWI, and she is quite unapologetic and unashamed at going after sexual encounters when she is attracted to someone. Her exuberance and love of life come through as her motivation.

It’s refreshing, and I love the way it challenges the status quo and makes Phryne somehow stronger and more self-assured. She is happy to look someone directly in the eye and ask: “What of it?”

The Fall is set in modern-day Belfast, Ireland, and Gillian Anderson plays Detective Superintendent Gibson. She’s a very senior officer, brought in to assess a case where the detectives have stalled in their investigation of a strange murder. She is stunningly beautiful, and extremely controlled.

Her demeanour and her looks, as well as her seniority and the fact that she is coming over from London to oversee the Belfast detectives as if they’re not up to the job spelled a sort of doom for me, initially. I thought, she’s going to get no cooperation, she’s going to have a hard time. But no.

There is a serenity and an innate self-confidence in Gibson that throws people off their stride. They don’t know how to read her, and her politeness and her very direct gaze, finds them cooperating with her, even if they might not have meant to, initially.

But it is when she sees a very handsome detective at a crime scene, approaches him, and gives him her hotel room number, that I realised this was something a step up from what I’d originally imagined it to be.

I wondered if Gibson was being wise to offer a sexual liaison to a junior officer she didn’t know, but after the encounter I realised that was exactly what I was meant to question. When the officer she slept with is killed in the early hours of that same morning, Gibson openly goes to the chief of police and lets him know the officer spent part of the night with her, and the reactions of the male investigators is fascinating, as she challenges their views. My favourite line is this. The head investigator asks her, in a shocked, disbelieving tone: “How long had you even known him?” to which she responds: “It’s hard for you, isn’t it? Man, subject, has sex, verb, with woman, object. You’re comfortable with that. But in this case it was woman, subject, man, object. And that doesn’t sit well with you, does it?”

This is a reflection of the crimes Gibson is there to investigate. A string of sexual murders by a serial killer who objectifies women completely.

And while Gibson’s motivations for her sexual behaviour seem to have a much darker root than Phryne Fisher’s, hints that Gibson has been the victim in the past of rape and torture, rather than the more general trauma of war, like Phryne, the way they are presented, and the strength of their characters, makes both these story lines both deeper and more thought-provoking than they otherwise would have been. The women have taken full ownership of their sexuality, and challenge anyone’s right to dictate to them, and in that way come to grips with events they had no control of in the past. They are stronger for it.

Do you enjoy challenging scenarios like this in the stories you watch or read?

About Michelle Diener

Michelle Diener writes historical fiction and fantasy. To find out more about her and her novels, you can visit her website.
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4 Responses to The Fall

  1. Mary Hughes says:

    Hi, Michelle,

    I enjoy Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries for many of the same things you mention. It sounds like I’d enjoy The Fall, as well. I hope it comes to Netflix soon ๐Ÿ™‚

    It’s always fascinating to see the world from a different perspective. I think challenges like that keep the mind flexible ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Edie Ramer says:

    Michelle, the Phryne Fisher mysteries aren’t on this year so far. I’ve been looking. Thanks to inter-library loans, I’ve watched 3 seasons already. I’m going to see if I can get The Fall through inter-library, too.

    I’ve read quite a few of the Phryne Fisher mysteries, which are interesting, because there are differences. In the TV Phryne, they’re showing a budding romance with Det. Robinson, but that isn’t happening in the books. Not the ones I’ve read, anyway.

    I do love shows with women in the lead – and women who are sexually self-confident. The TV series, The Mysteries of Laura with Debra Messing, might be about as close as we have now, but TV seems to be doing a somewhat better job than the movies. I’d like to see more of it.

  3. I’d like to see more of it, too! And I agree about the books. They are quite different to the TV series, but what the screen writers have done really does work for television, I think.

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