Updated: Jan 31, 2020
Watching the critical success in the USA and the UK of FLEABAG, THE HANDMAIDS TALE and THE FAVOURITE made me think about where opportunities lie for screenwriters exploring female-centered stories.
Over the years, working in TV commissioning, I have seen how stories about women are often regarded as too small or insignificant to sustain a feature film duration.
This is less of an issue for TV, but it can be a struggle to make a female protagonist active on screen. Often, in the development process the female protagonist is either changed in nature to become more active (which can be at odds with the integrity of the character) or they are over-taken by a different more active co-protagonist (usually male).
This is not true of FLEABAG or THE HANDMAID’S TALE, but something has happened to the narrative form in both of these series.
In FLEABAG the central protagonist reveals her inner life to great comedic effect by speaking directly to us the viewer and breaking the fourth wall in the process. While this is not new (think of MRS. BROWN’S BOYS, Shakespeare’s soliloquies etc), it is very powerful to voice what cannot be said within the world the character inhabits.
Similarly, in THE HANDMAID’S TALE we are privy to the thoughts and aims of the protagonist. Offred/June as voice-over in a world where she is not allowed to take action.
This response to a general lack of agency in the world these female characters inhabit has led to an interesting approach to narrative.
Maybe stories about women (or other marginalised people) must be subversive in how they use narrative forms and devices to be fully explored on screen?
Thinking about this, I wondered as a teacher, how I could encourage writers to be more radical within content for the mainstream international market?
My response is to devise a development tool for writers, script editors, development executives, producers and teachers – a series of questions, to encourage writers to explore story beyond the conventional narrative forms.
Join the revolution:
I am conducting this research through the National Film School, IADT where I teach, and with the support of both Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and Creative Ireland, for which I am very grateful.
I will make the tool freely available on this website in June 2020.
Meanwhile, any writers or writer/directors who are working on a female-centered story and would like to try the tool and provide feedback please email me at: