by Kristin Battestella
Be it Edwardian dames duking out the right to vote, post-war Liverpool ladies looking for love in all the wrong places, or wig wearing twenty-first century women barristers seeking justice in a man's world, these gals from across the pond make heaps of girl power in this trio of short-lived serials.
Lilies– There are some stumbling blocks to start this lone 8 hour 2007 season – one being a reaching title when these three sisters with a shell shocked brother and deadbeat dad feels more like Shameless: Liverpool 1920. The attention on each daughter is uneven and crowded with fast moving Olympic swimming trials, courtships, and weddings resolved in one episode. Suicide attempts and talk of their late mother are also dropped or recalled as needed, and early jazz style music is too lighthearted to play over the serious scenes, breaking the drama with whimsical moments desperate to needlessly tie every story to the family pianola. The comical tunes even play over a sequence where a woman is drugged and stripped by a photographer! The pace may have been better with both parents deceased, as there's not enough time for the kitchen dilemmas, saucy servants romancing the boss, feisty corset selling, and wartime wounds to be as shocking as they should be. Fortunately, religious rifts and townsfolk help or hindrance balance the interwoven plots better by Episode Three, with cowardly white feathers, women at work, xenophobia, illegitimacy, and convents tugging and pulling the family in different directions. The typically ill fated homosexual plotline may be slightly mishandled, but the forbidden romance, stigmas, and war fallout are dealt with more honestly and refreshingly than the usual same sex shock values. Modern topics such as postpardum depression and the priesthood are addressed in drama and scandals without being melodramatic and scandalous. This is a unique setting, and the impact of the time and place on the tales is steeped with charm and atmosphere, holding the audience further alongside the decent storytelling that at least deserved another season. By the penultimate hour, love and spiritual conflicts, new relationships, and paternal growth contrast the colliding violence and family rows as old ideals and new attitudes clash. The eponymous girls must face serious quandaries on their own – they don't make do without difficulty, but we want to see them come through it all. Secondary love interests leave enough hopeful potential while the finale drops the musical extras to spend serious time with the core characters in a pleasing little conclusion.
Silk – Maxine Peake (Shameless) is on form as a not so put together but likable gung ho in the courtroom barrister seeking her titular QC alongside the mixing business with pleasure Rupert Penry-Jones (MI-5), and wheeling and dealing chambers clerk Neil Stuke (Game On). Trading solicitor business over breakfast drinks, shady funds, and backdoor favors make for dirty good drama, and with his stable of directors in two episode blocks, series writer Peter Moffat (North Square) tackles juicy topics such as office dalliances, hierarchy subterfuge, and chambers rivalries amid taboo cases on elder abuse, teacher/student relations, racism, sexism, women's rights, religion, child prostitution, assisted suicide, harassment, and terrorism. Of course, unaware Americans will be very confused at the English legalese thanks to different solicitor roles or lawyer responsibilities and least of all, the robes and wigs. Who knew cruising in the bathroom was really cottaging in the urinal? Though perhaps derivative of other UK courtroom dramas, nothing stateside comparable comes to mind. The pregnancy storyline may be trite, but backroom meetings, corruptions, and conflicts of interest tip the scales on any protocol or formalities. Literal and figurative getting in bed with the right or wrong people make or break careers, and familiar UK TV faces pepper the ensemble with tug and pull gravitas including Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones), Miranda Raison (Spotless), Nina Sosanya (Marcella), Alex Jennings (The Crown), Phil Davis (Whitechapel), Indira Varma (Luther), and Frances Barber (Doctor Who). It's also wonderful to see female directors, casting on par between men and women, and edgy adult conflicts rather than the same young, pretty people focus. Overstepping boundaries schemes and power hungry underhandedness also take a humble as personal issues and heath discomforts change dynamics. While at times heavy handed – every speech every person makes carries a serious, slow zoom with big sighs and deep emotions – casual humor alleviates the drama. Inconsistent threads and dropped characters also come and go in the first two seasons, and Series Three strays with more character tangents, rival clerks, and head of chambers contests. It's all fine drama, just odd to expand while building toward a round about two-part finale. These downfalling characters have been spiraling out of control for some time, leaving an unusual but fitting changing of the guard exit that continues the viewer conversation long after the show ends. The heavy hitting may be lessened on a re-watch, but these eighteen episodes remains short, easy to binge quality over quantity. Now if only “clerking” wasn't pronounced “clarking” I'd be okay.
Up the Women – Who says a period piece has to be drama based on a book? This thirty minute 2013 suffragette sitcom from writer/star Jessica Hynes (Spaced) co-starring Rebecca Front (Inspector Lewis) has all the button up fashions, big hats, and turn of the century accessories for the Edwardian decorum – and the self-aware at odds humor and simple stage setting have fun with the fast talking witty women and stammering men who can't screw in a newfangled light bulb. The laugh track isn't necessary, however the subtitles help with the numerous puns and one should appreciate British humor – complete with teeth jokes and cheese riffs– to enjoy the cheeky here. From a mother with fifteen kids and more on the way, the dirty old lady, an ugly spinster, the rebellious daughter, our progressive wannabe suffragette, and a snotty woman in charge more concerned with quorums, motions, and minutes at a sewing circle, each woman uses modern sensibilities to challenge a female stereotype without being anachronistic. What do women do when they get together? Complain about kids, joke on men, gossip, buy store bought and say it was homemade. What anarchy! The sassy, well written dialogue packs a lot of illusion and references amid the revolution hyperbole, and the historical uprising remains a timely comment today. While the period trappings keep the vagina euphemisms classy, men explain simple things to women as overly complicated and sight gags like disastrous oversize picket signs accent the protests at a closed post office, jam sales sold to each other, and the hunger strike that can't be done on an empty stomach. Rival movements, women in sports with equipment laughs, and men with feminine names illume the serious focus behind this satire written and directed by women – everyone speaks properly with polite, superfluous words while denying women the right to vote and they are congratulated for the ability to speak well enough to fool the listener on what's really being said. Why does a woman need to be painted and dressed up like a mannequin to not move or shock everyone by wearing her hair down instead of in a bun? Serious questions about the gloves on hierarchy, force of government, and women consenting to farcical leadership pepper the catty women versus sisterhood humor. These six episodes have enough room for interwoven stories and social plots but move fast and don't overstay their welcome. The pip pip cheerio may be over the top at times with a wordiness or flummoxed for the sake of it, however that matches the earnest intentions and spiked tea that never turn out quite right. This isn't laugh out loud commentary, but the chuckling wit is the perfect size for a weekend marathon and remains worth a look.