The relief! New TV dramas where women don’t just talk about men

BBC dramas Bodyguard, starring Keeley Hawes, and Age before Beauty feature tough, unlikeable female characters - and that's a good thing, writes Alison Graham

Bodyguard and Age Before Beauty (BBC)

I love Bodyguard, Jed Mercurio’s visceral new thriller (Sunday, Monday BBC1) where no one says to Home Secretary Julia Montague (the excellent Keeley Hawes), “You’re a woman doing an important job. Do you need a little lie down, lady-person? What if you get premenstrual tension? Will you blow us all up because you are a slave to your girlie-hormones? Shall we talk about fellas? Can I show you a picture of my cat?”

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Of course not, she’s a woman and she does a Big Important Job and, best of all, she doesn’t talk about men all the time! Though I must add a rider to this, that I’ve seen the first two episodes, so for all I know in the remaining four Julia will be in a onesie, eating salted caramel ice cream and texting her friends about her babe of a bodyguard (Richard Madden) before she vlogs about her favourite mascara.

But, somehow, I doubt it, though Julia does get a bit tearful in episode two for a very good reason. And boy, is she a toughie.

Ruthless, in fact, and quite possibly really conniving and unpleasant. Oh, the relief! She’s a woman doing a Big Important Job and she’s rock hard. Apart from the crying bit, but honestly, you’ll understand why when you see the show.

I’ve had enough of dramas featuring gaggles of women – and they are always gaggles who operate as a mass, rather than as individuals; no one ever does this with male characters – who witter on about blokes as they put on brave faces after being ill-used by said blokes.

BBC1 drama The Split still haunts my nightmares: I wake up screaming, imagining Nicola Walker as top solicitor Hannah Stern coming towards me in that hideous ice-cream-man’s white jacket as she desperately tries to communicate using only her eyes that she wants to escape the whole farrago.

The Split - Ellora Torchia plays Maggie
The Split (BBC)

Yeah, yeah, female empowerment, blah blah. It’s great, but let’s not empower women just to talk about men. Look at Age before Beauty (which ends this week on BBC1 with episodes on both Tuesday and Wednesday), written by Debbie Horsfield. Now, I love Debbie Horsfield; she did gritty-women ensemble dramas before anyone else. I have particularly fond memories of her 1989 series Making Out – find it if you can.

But Age before Beauty falls headfirst into the man-trap. Ostensibly it’s about the devastating ripple effects of an affair, which is absolutely perfect dramatic turf. Yet it doesn’t add up to much, it’s just a lot of shouty women – and I’ve only recently realised that they are sisters – who work in a Manchester beauty salon.

All of Age before Beauty, even the script, is garish and pink and neon-lit. In this sort of drama there has to be a female hate-figure and here we have Leanne, the toxic bottle-blonde who runs the salon that’s bankrolled by her husband Teddy. Teddy, though, has always loved Leanne’s sister Bel. But everyone loves Bel because she’s lovely and she talks quietly but her witless husband has an affair with a fitness instructor. Though he hates himself for it, of course.

If you’re not watching you don’t need to know any more, but Age before Beauty turns into an endless cycle of women bitching about women, about women cheating on other women with their husbands, of silly revenge plots and endless nattering about fellas and how the sisters have been so ill-used. Really, who cares?

Bodyguard will launch on Sunday 26th August at 9pm on BBC1

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Episode two will air the following night on Monday 27th August at 9pm with the remainder of the series continuing on Sundays