Murder: The evolution of crime drama and the femme fatale

In a world where ITV churns out crime thrillers like they’re going out of fashion, it’s refreshing to watch a brilliant piece of British drama that turns the genre on its head. The name and a simple summary might indicate that the series is another elaborate rip-off, echoing the massively successful albeit quite dreary Broadchurch. But Birger Larsen, the Danish director behind The Killing, packs a punch in the first of three films, following on from the pilot episode that aired in 2012. The dramatic monologue style of Murder works as an investigation into the human psyche, making the action a case of much more than the predictable ‘whodunit’ we have come to expect from prime time TV.

What really struck me about the programme, aside from the artistic filming and at times a very harrowing script, was the strength of character within the female leads embodying the justice system. The rise of female representation within crime drama has become paramount, and the usual stereotype of an alcoholic, male detective who gets it wrong until he gets it right couldn’t be more boring in 2016. Women are no longer the femme fatale shadowing the male lead, nor are they the corpse of a young woman killed at a party. They are now the detective, the judge and the jury, but also a mother, a wife and a grandmother.

Yes, Detective Corrine Evans (Morven Christie) has the clichéd chip on her shoulder, but these dramas are about what it is to be human. A favourite crime thriller of mine is one I watched with my mum, The Fall. DCI Stella Gibson is icy, in control of her sexuality, using men for her own means, pursuing a serial killer demonstrating sexual violence against women – and she made us feel empowered. Another drama we enjoyed together (a pattern is starting to form here) is Scott & Bailey, both a realistic depiction of a familiar and loving female friendship and two women and their female boss solving gruesome crimes. Recently aired was the second series of Happy Valley, with Catherine Cawood played by Sarah Lancashire, declaring in the first episode “I’m forty-seven, I’m divorced, I live with my sister who’s a recovering heroin addict, I’ve got two grown up children, one dead, one who doesn’t speak to me, and a grandson”. Cawood represents a woman with a lot on her mind, dealing with love and grief but still taking no prisoners (metaphorically).

What makes these dramas so great, and these are just a few examples, is that in empowering women, they’re not anti-men. They balance an uneven genre, and instead of representing the heroics of the archetype male detective, they celebrate the power of a female lead. The power of a female lead against violence, rape, and horrific crimes against women, men and children alike. It’s no surprise that this evolution of TV is winning awards, and creating great drama in the process.


Emma Bowden


Image courtesy of The Radio Times. 

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