You can tell it’s autumn; X-factor, Downton Abbey and now Homeland are all back on the telly. I enjoyed Season One of Homeland, never quite got round to watching Season Two and am hoping to pick it up again with Season Three. This week’s episode was powerfully carried by Claire Danes, whose excellent portrayal of Carrie Mathison was as compellingly watchable as ever. Struggling with my own attempts at characterisation, it doesn’t escape my notice that Carrie is brilliantly written – full of contradictions and vulnerabilities, prone to increasingly self-destructive behaviour and yet at the same time brave, intuitive and highly intelligent. I’m still trying to decide if she’s likeable, and whether it matters if she isn’t. What’s beyond question is she’s never predictable and it’s hard not to sympathise with her dilemma, even when it’s self-inflicted.
Another well-written if deeply unlikeable female character is Jasmine in Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine. Perhaps only someone of Allen’s stature could have got away with creating a protagonist who’s quite so devoid of warmth or indeed any sort of appealing characteristics. To further reinforce the viewers’ antipathy, Cate Blanchett takes care not to overplay Jasmine’s more pathological behaviours, making it crystal clear she has no-one to blame for her woes but herself. Blanchett thus provides a mesmerising portrait of a woman who refuses with every fibre of her being to let reality or human empathy pierce the carapace of her self-deluded snobbery. By contrast, the character of Ginger seems sketchier and harder to pin down and at times it feels as if she’s there as much as a “sweet” contrast to Jasmine’s hard-core egotism, as she is as a character in her own right. There’s very little sense of what Ginger herself wants out of life, or what she really thinks about a sister in whose face most people would quite justifiably slam the door. A key element of the plot hangs on the idea that Ginger allows herself to be influenced by the more forceful and socially confident Jasmine before seeing her in her true light. This, however, has the effect of making her seem diffident and rather flaky. I guess the risk is that in trying to create subtle characters, it’s easy to fall into the trap of creating ones that are simply unknowable or too ill-defined to hold the audience’s attention.
On a slightly different tack, this week sees the anniversary of the shooting of Malala Yousafzai and with it a reminder that even in this day and age, more than sixty million girls around the world don’t have access to education. Malala herself is an incredibly inspirational figure on whose shoulders it seems there’s an ever growing burden of expectation. She’s right to identify constructive engagement as the only real solution to the challenges posed by those who wish to entrench traditional values at the expense of social – and particularly female – emancipation. It’s simple and obvious, though regrettably not something that has so far been pursued with any degree of commitment. Resolving one’s differences through discussion is deeply humanising to all those involved. It’s thus immensely heartening to see John Kerry and Sergei Lavrov sit down in a spirit of evident amity to talk about disarming Syria’s chemical weapons. What a tremendous coup success would be, and how very much more hopeful than yet another round of airstrikes.