Christmas TV: Darcy, Mary Poppins and Raised by Wolves

14th Jan 2014

Christmas TV: Darcy, Mary Poppins and Raised by Wolves
Now that the Christmas break is over and we’ve all survived the Siege of the Mince Pie, us lot at For Books’ Sake have packed away the Christmas jumpers, combed the tinsel and fake snow out of our hair, ignored all this new year resolution nonsense and started to cast a slightly more critical eye over the women writers on our TV screens this Christmas.

Depending on your interest in facts and Mr Darcy’s britches 2013 was either a very good or a very meh year for Christmas TV.

We had Death Comes to Pemberley steaming up your nan’s specs, Mary Poppins poppin’ (sorry) up left, right and centre and we all had our long awaited fangirl love-in over Caitlin Moran’s sitcom Raised by Wolves.

Here’s what our writers made of it all;

Raised by Wolves

It’s not cool to like Caitlin Moran. Just look at the legions of Twitterati she’s dragged from useful tasks, probably, to enter into ranting into the ether about her transgressions against the sisterhood. I mean, it’s not like they do that for just anybody.

Well sorry-not-sorry: I loved Raised by Wolves.

Penned by Moran and her sister Caz, it’s a semi-autobiography of their childhood on an estate in Wolverhampton. Alter-egos Germaine and Aretha are the eldest of a bunch of home-schooled misfit siblings, dragged up by a Mum who warns them about the apocalypse whilst chain smoking ciggies, and a stoned Gramps who leads the kids in raucous choruses of “When I think About You I Touch Myself”.

It paints a great picture of a loving, if unusual, family. It wasn’t perfect – the joke about “Mum’s butt” got a bit tedious, and nowt much happened in terms of story.

But I loved it mainly for one reason, which shone through in typical Moran style of should-be-bloody-obvious.

If, like me, you grew up poor on an estate, or if you’re just not a Tory shit, you will be sick of seeing working-class families gawped at through tearful piano music in BBC dramas or treated like animals in a zoo by Shameless or Benefit Street.

Raised by Wolves is the first thing I’ve seen on telly in ages which treats poor people as people. Moran tweeted in December that in 2014 she would explain socialism like she did feminism. And I’m all for that, me, if it means more of this.

Rebecca Winson

The Secret Life of Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins is the quintessential English children’s novel; funny, dark and more than a little terrifying, it does nothing to mollycoddle its readers. The film, for all its Julie Andrews-ness, is no match for P. L. Travers’ dark explorations of childhood fears and dreams.

Enter The Secret Life of Mary Poppins, Victoria Coren Mitchell’s exploration of Helen Lyndon Goff a.k.a. L. P. Traves – the woman behind the myth.

Behind the perfect nanny was a woman who was anything but what society expected her to be. Remarkably strong-willed and independent, she had relationships with both men and women, wrote erotica under a pseudonym and even adopted a child after consulting her astrologer.

Having left her Australian childhood behind her, changing her name and accent, Travers sought to eradicate everything that she could not control – from Walt Disney’s adaptation of Mary Poppins, to her own failings as a mother.

Coren Mitchell’s documentary – though at times affectionate – does not shy away from Travers’ unlikable side. Analysing her need for control – stemming from her own ungovernable childhood – as well as the dysfunctional relationship she had with her adopted son, we are faced with a determined woman whom we cannot help but be intrigued by.

Ali Williams

Jane Austen – with her droll humour and ability to see through fifty shades of social bullshit

Death Comes to Pemberley

So here we have a murder mystery and unofficial sequel to Pride and Prejudice because, let’s face it, we just can’t leave Lizzie and Darcy alone and why not tie ‘em up in a ‘whodunnit’ to boot? Sequels to literary classics have always been a gray area (see our feature on just that here) and if you search ‘Pride and Prejudice Sequels’ on Amazon, you’ll find no less than fifteen pages of titles. I recommend a swatch of my personal favourite, Steampunk Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice-inspired Comedy Adventure.

However, Death Comes to Pemberley, though a definite love letter to Jane Austen’s world, is far more indulgent in the sheer bloody awkwardness and impracticality of the Regency Period than derisive social commentary.

Seething passive aggressive tension is bound by high waist bands and long, significant glances which take up oodles of screen time. Anna Maxwell Martin plays Elizabeth, loyal wife to chronic brooder Darcy (Matthew Rhys) and mother to an adorably robust cherub of a son.

Though her curls are divine and she solves the whole case like a melancholy Miss Marple, most of her power seems to lie in concealing her true feelings for the betterment of others and, well, staring at things. People, trees, general space – Lizzie has it covered.

Were she alive today, Jane Austen – with her droll humour and ability to see through fifty shades of social bullshit – would most likely be the author of a snarkily hilarious blog.

Pemberley, though, for better or worse, is a pretty straight-laced period drama, taking few risks in reinventing Austen’s legacy other than a few new faces and an impressive amount of stick-beating induced blood.

Rosie McKean

Now we want to know what you thought. Have the last few months been good for women writers? Do you feel like things were “practically perfect in every way”? Or do you wish they’d given Lizzie a bit more to do than to just mournfully stare at things?