How Hollywood's older female stars are still shining brightest
Published 18/01/2014 | 01:30
I heed the salutary tale of Colin Welland, the Chariots of Fire scriptwriter who was left with what they call in Ballymena 'a pure red boat', when he took to the Oscar podium in 1982 to triumphantly cry: "The British are coming"! It turned out the British weren't coming. In fact the following years saw a particularly dry period for British films at the Oscars. Colin had to grow a beard to stop him getting laughed out of pubs.
So I've held back a bit on this, but the Golden Globes and BAFTA nominations have finally given me the confidence to go for it. "The middle aged women are coming"!
It's not just that the average age of the BAFTAs best actress nominees – Cate Blanchett (44), Sandra Bullock (49), Emma Thompson (54), Kate Winslet (38), and Dame Judi Dench (79) and Amy Adams (39), (The Globes had the same list, substituting Amy Adams for 38-year-old Kate Winslet). It's the age and age-image defying qualities of the women involved which makes my hopeful heart leap.
Judi Dench is nearly 80! There was a time when 80-year-old women were widely regarded as human husks, cobwebbed old Miss Havershams, havering away quietly to themselves in bathchairs, valued by electric blanket salesmen and StairMaster manufacturers alone.
No one blinked an eye when a doddery comment or a wobble from an elderly female was explained away with a derisory 'She's an 80 year-old-woman for goodness' sake'. The implication being, don't expect anything from her anymore, she barely exists. Not something many would say out loud to Dench or the also 79-year-old Queen of TV drama, Maggie Smith.
Globe hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler got a big laugh when they said 64-year-old Meryl Streep's award-nominated performance in August: Osage County, showed just how many great roles Hollywood offered to 'over 60s Meryl Streeps'. It's a good joke, but actually, there are a plethora of 50 and 60-something women getting great jobs in big movies right now.
Imagine telling the brilliant and very sexy multiple award-winners Helen Mirren or Diane Keaton, both 68, their time is up. It's not just that you'd get an earful, you'd also look damn stupid; both are still big box office draws.
This is at the crux of the inspiring rise of the Women of Knowledge and Experience, as I like to call the over 40s. Film studios aren't showering the likes of Julia Roberts, Tina Fey, Helena Bonham Carter and Nicole Kidman with work because they've wised up to political correctness.
For one thing, the movie industry just hasn't produced a galaxy of bright new female stars in the last 10 years, probably because it's spent its time with its knucklehead steeped in superheroes, action men and repetitive franchises. The odd Jennifer Lawrence and Kirsten Stuart has popped up along the way but they haven't seen a trail of new talent following in their wake.
But more importantly, evidence shows that current day cinema audiences (far less dominated by young men than they used to be) love older women. And not just in gloomy death of hope dramas, but in action movies and comedies. It's no surprise that research reveals Sandra Bullock, who's just a year from being 50 (!), is on a par with Tom Hanks as the top film star for recognisability and popularity.
Beautiful, funny and in phenomenal physical shape, Bullock is mistress of the romcom, the fast-paced thriller, the slapstick comedy and in this year's Gravity, the one-woman exploration of inner and outer existential space. Beat that, Gosling! 'Imagine telling the very sexy and brilliant Helen Mirren or Diane Keaton, both 68, their time is up'