Funny Woman, which is currently available on demand on Sky Showcase, is one of the best and most enjoyable programmes I have watched this year. Based on the book Funny Girl by Nick Hornby, and telling the story of a working class girl from Blackpool who becomes a big comedy actress during the heady days of the Swingin’ sixties, Funny Woman is bright and witty, but also has the edge of showing the sorts of double standards that existed then when it comes to the treatment of women in the media, and, if we’re honest, still exist now.
The Funny Woman in question is Barbara Parker, aka Sohie Straw. After winning a beauty contest she moves to London, hoping to break into show business. Instead, she ends up working in a department store, where he honesty and down to Earth persona doesn’t particularly go down well. She does make a friend, Marjorie (Alexa Davies from Raised By Wolves) and moves in with her as a flatmate, but her life changes when, on a date with a man who turns out to be married, she meets showbiz agent Brian Debenham (Rupert Everett), and, through subterfuge, finally gets her big break with an audition for a sitcom ‘Dining Out’. The big break though, brings it’s own challenges, as Sophie becomes involved in a high profile relationship with her utterly charming but totally flaky co-star Clive (Tom Bateman) whilst being loved from afar by married producer Dennis (Arshar Ali). Will Sophie find true love and lasting stardom? There are six enthralling episodes to enjoy as you find out.
Gemma Arterton was absolutely born to play this role. Utterly beautiful, she reminds me of 60’s stars like Brigitte Bardot, crossed with the star of kitchen sink gritty dramas Carol White. She never looks less than amazing, a goddess surrounded by men, but also one of the boys. It’s great to see her in a really funny role, she delivers the witty one liners with aplomb. She has a great chemistry with both her leading men, and also with her female friend, Marjorie and reporter Diane, a woman with aspirations to serious journalism, held back by the fact that she is both female and black.
There are serious issues that are raised in Funny Woman, racism, sexism, class as a barrier to social mobility, but these are treated as important and never feel shoehorned in. These issues also add balance to the glitz and glamour of the 60’s, with mentions of parties with the Rolling Stones, a David Bailey-esque photographer and the stylish, beautiful outfits that have a very Mary Quant feel.
Funny Woman is definitely worth a watch if you love strong female characters that show that women can be funny and beautiful.