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Six Of The Best British Anti-Heroines On Film

The British anti-heroine has risen and killed the past. Where, once, the seminal role for a British woman lay in the vicinity of a bond girl (busty, blonde, buoyed with joy and affection toward the actions of a morally grey man) times have changed.
There has been a renaissance of sorts, particularly in the British landscape.
Studio ideals of the new and powerful woman may still linger in somewhat objectified territory (femme fatales only fight back so far as they can be kept attractive) but many British indie films have founded darker, vibrant characters: women who are bold, borderline psychotic and morally grey themselves.

These women are casual criminals, and rueful rebels; a new archetype that marks a rebuttal — a tongue in cheek dismissal, (or just an entire kick in the face) to the overly passive female roles of history. They have become more evident in the wake of the likes of Shonda Rhimes’ Annalise Keating and, in the UK, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s roster of wicked women (from Fleabag to Villanelle and Eve Polastri). But British films are also giving the anti-heroine more and more time to flourish.

The latest to let women let rip is Arrow Film’s A Serial Killer’s Guide To Lifeavailable
on iTunes and Digital HD from 13th January 2020

To celebrate the release of this riot of a ‘road-kill-trip’, we are looking back on some of those women who violently broke the mould and took an anti-heroic approach to their leading role:


1. Tina (Sightseers)

In Sightseers, two hapless tourists travelling across the English moors to take in the highlights of the countryside find themselves leaving a spectacle themselves when a series of awkward run-ins with fellow sightseers leave them with blood on their hands. Tina and her husband Chris (Steve Oram) are the perfect dark twist on a British stereotype – so unerringly twitchy about verbal confrontations, small talk and the contempt of men wearing more expensive wellies than them, that they would rather butcher someone to death than stand a minute longer in the grass trying to befriend them. Alice Lowe’s Tina is a marvellous counter to Chris’s pushy aggro – as things go, she’s pretty sweet, terribly nervous and quite un-intimidating in her oversized anorak. But at the edge of her expression, there is just the hint of a creepier demeanour. When the chance to walk away presents itself, Tina takes a sly hand in proceedings and gets stuck in. Don’t disturb her on her dog walk.

2. Rose (Wild Target)

‘Completely out of control’ is just one of the many hysterical judgements of Rose, a con-woman who manages to convince her would-be-assassin to join her on a rip-roaring escape plan from the mob who want her dead. Featuring Emily Blunt as a fresh-faced and refreshingly selfish target, and the quirky capering style of Clue director Jonathan Lynn, this film, and its unlawful princess, is a guiltless hoot.

The joy of Rose is not just that she is a villain wearing a damsel’s look, but the inclusiveness of her crimes. Nothing is too petty, or too terrible if it will make her and her little crew of aides smile another day; stealing chocolate, going for the gun, a car heist in knee-high boots, nothing is too impossible or too immature for this delightful villainess. She is the best of a bad bunch.

3. Moll (Beast)

Maybe the most tragic on this list; Jessie Buckley’s disturbed, distressing performance as a small-town girl who meets a bad boy in the midst of a series of serial murders is the shining example of a ‘tortured villain’ – a trope usually reserved for Byronic, overtly method-acting men. Moll captures hearts as a lonely, girlish soul caught up in a horrific series of femicides that tear her bitter, isolated sea-side home apart. But, as her increasingly dark dreams pre-curse, she might just destroy hearts as well. And eat them for breakfast.

Beast allows writer-director Michael Pearce to turn a familiar fairytale inside out. Although the mystery of just who is hiding the identity of the Beast under their skin is never quite solved, audiences can be sure of one thing: Moll is no ordinary beauty.

4. Eve (Only Lover’s Left Alive)

More anti than heroin, Tilda Swinton’s radiant undead lurker may be a self-confessed -‘scary fiction’. But, she is also incandescently charming. This lady of the night enjoys the Coen brothers movies, sports a bone-white beach blowback quiff and prefers to enjoy her blood popsicles in the dark than near the sun. She is, in short, the first hipster countess to counter the legacy of Dracula, and it is sheer entertainment to see Tilda Swinton sink her teeth into every diminutively regarded stereotype about ‘basic bitches’ and rip it to bloody shreds. Funny that it takes the dead woman to liven up the room.

5 and 6. Val (and Lou) in A Serial Killer’s Guide to Life

A life-coach on a bloody path to enlightenment and her half-petrified, half-impressed student is the product of a storytelling legacy that sees increasingly imaginative ways to baffle audiences expecting to settle on the fixed idea of a woman.

Staten Eliot’s latest feature film has a great laugh while continuing the new-age assumption that the danger and depravity of women under pressure — once though by t to be a muscle that they didn’t possess – actually knows no bounds. Poppy Roe and Katie Brayben are a perfect pair — one the conscience fraying at the edges, and one the madwoman masquerading as a leader — the perfect anti-heroine twosome. The duality of man has met its match, the duality of women.


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