By Will Barber Taylor
Starring some of Britain’s best acting talent, including Gwyneth Strong (Only Fools and Horses), Pauline Quirke (Emmerdale), Frances Barber (Pygmalion), BAFTA-nominee Lesley Manville (Another Year) and Michelle Collins (Coronation Street). They play five friends who grew up together in North London before going their separate ways.
Twenty years on the women are about to reunite for the first time to celebrate a wedding. Bride-to-be Susie (Collins) isn’t sure she wants to get married and tries to keep details of her wild past hidden. Each of her four friends are also going through a crisis of their own.
Janet (Strong) is a working wife, desperate to have a baby. Mandy (Quirke) is married to a man who makes her feel overweight and under loved, forcing her to look elsewhere for affection. Anna (Barber) is a single and carefree writer determined to pursue her dream. And Karen (Manville) is a teacher unwilling to reveal she is gay.
Series Two continues a year after Susie’s wedding. Now approaching forty, the friends find themselves facing a fresh set of problems. Motherhood turns Susie into a different woman. Mandy is single. Janet’s issues aren’t solved by IVF. Anna accepts that certain men are single for a reason. Only Karen seems content.
A dynamic and modern series, Real Women is unlike many televisual portrayals of women either in the 90s or now. It presents (as one would expect given the title) real women attempting to find some place in society and be happy. This combination of realism mixed with a great comic script and some of the best British actresses of the last thirty years proves that television failure to produce programmes about realistic women is more a result of failings within the TV industry than anything else. The women presented in both series of Real Woman are strong, dynamic and individualistic. They aren’t stereotypes or mannequin dolls but as the title makes clear, they are Real Women.
The performances by all of the cast are excellent – Pauline Quirke as Susie and Lesley Manville as Karen are particularly outstanding in their roles. Quirke’s portrayal of Susie as a woman torn between being faithful to her husband and her inability to feel special in a role she feels she has grown into rather than chosen is both dramatic and funny – Quirke’s natural dramatic abilities, highlighted in such other programmes as The Sculptress truly come to the forefront here. Equally, Lesley Manville’s dramatic dilemma as to whether she can be open about her sexuality and how to deal with it as a teacher has never been more relevant than it is today. Manville’s internal struggle is portrayed excellently and when she does finally come out it is a brilliant portrayal.
Both series of Real Women are well written, fantastically acted and a terrific reminder of the power of British television when it is well produced. I would highly recommend the DVD set of Real Women if you want to celebrate a truly visionary and entertaining series that portrays women as they should be portrayed – not as dolls or mere objects of desire but as real women.
You can purchase both series of Real Women from Amazon here.