Widows by Lynda La Plante

The irresistible pull of Widows

So I found myself watching it again. So many years after I begged my mum to let me stay up late so I could watch it (and I could barely understand it), I’m back again.

Lynda La Plante’s seminal female-led thriller remains (for me) the most exciting TV series I’ve seen. Watching for the first time as a child I’d never seen a crime series where the leads were women, and they were criminals! It was so new, fresh and exciting. They were out to pull off a security van robbery, and they didn’t care about the law, other criminals or men (apart from Linda’s ill-fated dalliance with a bisexual, criminal mechanic). Well we’ve all been there.

I love the grubby feel of the series, showing the London that I never knew – the strip clubs, the sleazy lowlife criminals, the bomb sites left over from WWII, the railway arches dotted all over the place (a motif Lynda La Plante would return to so shockingly in Prime Suspect). It’s another world, very much a man’s world, and the widows triumph in it.

As I’ve seen it so many times, I know each scene back to front. While I still watch it for the peerless story and pacing (incredibly fast for the time when you compare it to other contemporary drama series), I’m most drawn to the character of Dolly Rawlins – a fearless, hard-as-nails woman who doesn’t care who she upsets or hurts to get what she’s owed.

La Plante weaves the threads of the planning for the security raid, the vile Fisher brothers’ search for the missing ledgers and the threat from Harry Rawlins so well, and in such an unpredictable way, that you genuinely don’t know what’s going to happen next. You also care for each and every one of the female leads – all of them drawn perfectly to play off against one another.

Even though my own writing is very different to Widows, the way La Plante has constructed such a complex set of storylines (from a killer premise) is something I return to time and again. With my thriller script Nobody, I borrowed some of the mood La Plante creates in Widows – the gritty, grimy London most people don’t see, and a strong female lead who isn’t defined by the men around her.

Widows is a female story from a time when such a thing barely existed. We could do with a whole lot more of them now.

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