Hanna was the original modern 'action girl' – now she's back
From Kick-Ass to Killing Eve, Saoirse Ronan's Hanna was the first in a long line of young female action heroes says writer David Farr. Now Amazon is bringing her back for a brand new TV series
Chloe Moretz's child assassin dropping the c-word mid-fight in Kick-Ass. Katniss Everdeen volleying off arrows in The Hunger Games. Villanelle stabbing her victims with a hairpin in Killing Eve.
Filmmakers have finally discovered the value of placing nuanced, brave and – yes – violent young women at the heart of their storytelling.
But according to screenwriter David Farr, we’ve all forgotten the story that launched this action girl trend in the first place.
- Everything you need to know about Hanna on Amazon Prime Video
- Who is Hanna star Esme Creed-Miles? Meet the lead of Amazon's new TV thriller
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The "prototype" for all these characters, Farr suggests, lies in Hanna, the fairytale-esque action thriller he wrote in 2011. The film starred Saoirse Ronan as a genetically modified teen with killer instincts: the perfect female assassin.
"Very swiftly after Hanna there was Kick-Ass, there was Hunger Games, and then there's been a whole heap of different female action heroes,” Farr explains. “We're very proud of that.”
If Hanna kicked off a run of action films and series centred around young female leads, then Amazon's decision to go back to where it all began with a brand new TV adaptation begins to make sense.
“I think part of the pleasure of doing this is is to remind people that we were there first, let's be honest,” Farr says.
The television drama, available from Friday 29th March on Amazon Prime Video, has a brand new cast, with relative newcomer Esme Creed-Miles stepping into Ronan’s shoes.
In the series, Hanna grows up in the wintery depths of a remote forest, with only her father for company. Creed-Miles was 18 years old when she began working on Hanna, and she describes the liberating experience of playing a young woman wholly removed from her own teenage experience.
“There are a lot of clichés written into complex female characters,” Creed-Miles tells RadioTimes.com. “Hanna was an opportunity to explore a character whose femininity was so raw and unconditioned by the modern world.”
“As a young woman, my own experience of looking at myself in the mirror is something that's plagued me in lots of ways,” she adds, “and I had this idea: what if Hanna's never looked in a mirror? She's never seen herself in that way, doesn't have that concept of herself as being detached from her body, as I think a lot of people in the modern world are. There's a wholesomeness to her.”
Early on in the series, Hanna meets a British teenager called Sophie. Lounging on a hotel bed and scrolling through social media on her laptop, she points out a particularly “skinny” woman to Hanna.
“If I'm being honest that’s something that I think to myself every time I go on Instagram,” Creed-Miles says of Sophie’s comment. "'Look how skinny she is, I wanna be that skinny', and it's horrible. It honestly affects my mental health, social media, because I'm constantly being bombarded with an image of femininity that I feel I have to adhere to. And I think there's a lot of pressure in this industry as well, being constantly discriminated [based] on your aesthetic appearance."
So it was important, says Creed-Miles, that Hanna’s response to the image was completely unlike her own: "When she's looking at these things, it's utter bewilderment."
Hanna’s 'innocence' when it comes to the modern world is in sharp contrast to her finely tuned strength and physicality. The series sees her leap on to speeding trains, jump from balconies, and tackle adult men twice her bodyweight.
“I've had to learn to be stronger,” Creed-Miles says. “I've never been someone who'd done any sports; you could slap my arm and there was no muscle there!” she adds.
“Now I'm strong: I can run fast, I can lift weights, and that in itself is quite empowering, to have that physical strength. It changes my whole mental attitude.”
Just like the original film, the show’s main antagonist in Hanna is also a woman: Marissa Wiegler, a rogue CIA agent played by Good Omens and The Killing star Mireille Enos.
Hanna has "two key relationships" in the series, Farr explains. “With her father Erik, played by Joel Kinnaman, and with her kind of 'surrogate mother' Marissa, who is the antagonist played wonderfully by Mireille Enos. So yes, I think that theme of female empowerment is very strong.”
That "empowerment" continues to behind the camera too, Farr says.
“We very consciously went out to find a female director, a voice to lead us on our journey: Sarah Adina Smith, who's a fabulous and talented independent American filmmaker.”
Farr explains that this was not a specific reaction to the gender equality debate in the entertainment industry following the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, as the hiring decisions were made "a long time ago".
But," he adds, "I think it is highlighted by what's been going on recently: that this is a female story, and it is a female story because it is absolutely that journey of a young woman who discovers who she is."
"But also, Hanna is an action heroine," Farr concludes. "She is a remarkable fighter, learning how to stand on her own two feet in the world."
Hanna season one will be released on Amazon Prime Video on Friday 29th March 2019