Written by Morgan Cormack
While it’s easy to think of Jane Horrocks’ comments as criticising these actors, she is actually making a very valid point.
One of Britain’s most acclaimed actors, Jane Horrocks is best known for her roles in films Little Voice and Life Is Sweet. And, of course, perhaps most notably, her portrayal of eccentric secretary Bubble in sitcom Absolutely Fabulous.
The role, alongside Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, made her a known name in many households and throughout her career, she’s been nominated for both Bafta and Golden Globe awards.
Horrocks spoke of her frustrations with seeing the same faces at the helm of major TV series during an event in Brighton over the weekend.
“I think it’s a bit limiting for the audience to see the same crowd always coming on,” she said. “I just feel sorry for the audience really that the commissioners and the producers are so short-sighted that they have to keep churning out the same people.”
At the event, Horrocks was asked how she felt about big-profile actors like Olivia Colman (Landscapers), Keeley Hawes (The Midwich Cuckoos) and Lily James (Pam & Tommy) regularly being given major TV roles. Horrocks then replied drily, “And Sarah Lancashire.” (Happy Valley, Julia)
Horrocks added: “They do an amazing job and if they’re being offered the roles then, of course, you take them.
“There are a lot of actors out there who could bring something new to one of those roles, unexpected.”
Horrocks’ comments come during the same weekend that an open letter was signed by more than 100 actors and public figures demanding for more women aged 45 and over to appear on-screen.
Among the signatories are Hawes, Lesley Manville, Richard E Grant, David Tennant, Zawe Ashton, Meera Syal and Juliet Stevenson.
In the letter, the Acting Your Age Campaign (AYAC) said: “Today’s in-demand young actress is tomorrow’s unemployed middle-aged actress,” adding: “We are fighting to ensure that our generation of excluded women is the last generation of excluded women.”
Women in the UK only have a “shelf life” on screen while their male colleagues have a “whole life”, it claims.
It goes on: “Ageism targeting women is an entrenched industry staple that is outdated, harmful and neglects the millions of audience members who appreciate seeing women over 45 telling the stories of our lives.”
While it’s easy to think of Horrocks’ comments as being critical of big-name actors, she is actually making a very valid point.
When it comes to our primetime British dramas and smash-hit shows, we rarely see new talent taking the lead. While we do love to see thrillers, crime dramas and the like being led by some of our favourite stars, there’s a slew of other actors – of different ages, races, backgrounds, sexual orientations – that could also be making their mark on the British film and TV industry.
The open letter, which is fighting to help combat the “entrenched ageism” of the entertainment industry, lays out multiple recommendations for broadcast and production company commissioners, as well as for news and current affairs programming.
The recommendations also include a 50:50 equal gender and age representation split when it comes to light entertainment programmes with male and female leads or presenters. It also calls for all broadcaster diversity initiatives to incorporate age.
Some of the other recommendations include:
- Presenters of documentaries should be represented equally, with 50:50 gender initiatives to include age parity between women and men who are 45-plus
- Age parity in political panels, discussions, news packages and studio guests
- News pieces on women’s physical and mental health and violence against women “shouldn’t have exclusive bias towards young women”
- Celebrity and entertainment news should feature women and men over 45 equally and use recent photographs
As the letter concludes: “This isn’t an attack on artistic freedom. This is highlighting that too often, excluding older women is enabled through the cloak of artistic choices.”
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