Kate Griffin selects some notably nasty female protagonists
Game of Thrones is back for a seventh season this July and I’ll be there in front of the TV. ‘Thrones’ is probably the only series that could persuade me to forgo a long balmy evening with friends and pitcher of Pimms in a pub garden. I’ll happily draw the curtains against the light and settle down on the sofa because although its midsummer outside, indoors winter is definitely coming.
I won’t be alone. Millions will be watching to see if favourite characters make it through to the end of the season. The casual demise of major players is said to be one of the main reasons for the series’ popularity, along with the high politicking, low cunning and epic plotting that has managed to persuade even the most fantasy averse viewers that a world with dragons in it is perfectly feasible.
Personally, I love the dragons. I don’t mean the scaly, fire breathing ones.
One of the most compelling reasons to watch Game of Thrones is for its powerful female characters. No woman in ‘GOT’ is simply a girlfriend, wife, mother or daughter, instead they lead armies into battle, carve out kingdoms, wreak havoc, and yes - hatch dragons!
And no character is more devious, destructive and downright terrifying, than “Queen Mother’ Cersei Lannister whose love for her royal brood has warped into a weapon of mass destruction.
Full admission: I adore Cersei. She’s one of the reasons I’ve stuck with ‘Thrones’ despite the dragons. I know I shouldn’t admire her, but her I do. If she doesn’t make it through to series eight I’ll have to seriously consider the future of my Sky Atlantic subscription!
In my own books, it’s definitely the bad girls who are most fun to write. With this in mind I offer my own top ten wicked women, breathing fire on page and screen.
Cersei Lannister: A Song of Fire and Ice & Game of Thrones
Amy Elliott Dunne: Gone Girl
Cold, calculating and utterly remorseless, she’s a spider at the centre of a web of deceit and like a Black Widow she pretty much ‘eats’ her mate alive.
Mrs Danvers: Rebecca
Daphne Du Maurier’s supremely sinister, overly attached housekeeper terrifies Maxim de Winter’s young bride and generations of readers and film goers
Becky Sharp: Vanity Fair
I really shouldn’t like Becky. She a scheming, manipulative social climber and adventuress, willing to betray anyone to get what she wants. Yet, she’s really very funny - and right at the end she does give that awful wimp Amelia Sedley some very sound advice.
Cruella DeVil: 101 Dalmatians
Unforgettably vile in Dodie Smith’s 1956 book 101 Dalmatians and perhaps even more so in the Disney 1961 animated film version this is a woman who makes the Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestley look like a kitten. On the other hand, Cruella rocks a strong look…
The Marquise de Merteuil: Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Utterly heartless, Merteuil is so jaded that only the suffering of others reminds her what it is to feel. She plays a vicious game with the lives of those around her, but ultimately she is the loser. Oddly, Glenn Close has played both the Marquise de Merteuil and Cruella DeVil on screen.
Bellatrix LeStrange: The Harry Potter series
Harking back to Glenn Close (as above), evil Bellatrix reminds me of Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction. She’s not only insane, but she’s also obsessively in love with Voldemort which makes for a potent and deadly cocktail of villainy. Amazingly, Bellatrix is a name that’s gaining popularity.
Miss Havisham: Great Expectations
Revenge is a dish best served cold they say and Miss Havisham certainly waits a long time amidst the wreckage of her wedding feast to wreak vengeance on all men for being jilted. Her ‘weapon’, Estella, the girl without a heart, is almost equally terrifying, but it’s the image of the bitter old woman in her decaying wedding finery that haunts us.
Lady Macbeth: Macbeth (And the 2017 film Lady Macbeth)
Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth starts off as a shrewish, behind-the-scenes manipulator, but she takes the knife into her own hand when her husband proves a disappointment. She’s an archetype, most recently revisited in William Oldroyd’s brilliantly subversive reworking with the wondrously lethal Florence Pugh in the title role. (Oldroyd’s film is based on Nikolai Leskov’s 1865 novel Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District).
The Wicked Queen: Snow White
I saw Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs when I was three years old. I was terrified of the Wicked Queen, hiding under my seat for most of the time she was on screen. Apparently, at the apple-eating climax, I stood on my chair and declaimed loudly, ‘Well, I’m glad she’s not my step mother.’ The resulting laughter in the Watford Empire and the round of applause I received from indulgent film goers cemented the Wicked Queen in my mind as a ‘very good thing.’
Kitty Peck and the Daughter of Sorrow, the latest instalment of Kate Griffin’s murderous melodrama set against the backdrop of Victorian music hall is published by Faber and Faber in July 2017