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Taking Action: Women Change The Story

From Promising Young Woman to Mary Queen of Scots, six films with a new type of heroine

Focus Features 01.25.2021
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Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman introduces a very different woman of action. Having had her medical career derailed by the cruelty of others, Cassie (Carey Mulligan) now lives her life on her own terms. A barista by day, she spends her evenings spinning ingenious plots to beat abusive men at their own game. Her life suddenly changes when she unexpectedly meets a figure from the past who provides her the opportunity to rewrite her history in a spectacular way. Like Cassie, the film also follows its own rules. Fennell explains, “I wanted it to be fun and a popcorn movie that also turns the thumbscrews on every single person watching it.” With a remarkable supporting cast that includes Bo Burnham, Laverne CoxConnie BrittonJennifer CoolidgeMax GreenfieldMolly Shannon, and more, Promising Young Woman, according to IndieWire, “manages to be funny and sexy and smart and absolutely terrifying, all in one stylish package.”

With Promising Young Woman now out, we’re re-watching some of our favorite movies about heroines getting the job done on their own terms. Be they great historical figures (like Harriet) or super action figures (like Hanna), these women are taking control of their own stories.

Watch Promising Young Woman today at home on demand or in theaters.

The official trailer for Promising Young Woman.

Harriet | A real-life superhero

In Kasi Lemmons’ Harriet , Cynthia Erivo brings to life the legendary freedom fighter Harriet Tubman. After escaping from slavery, Tubman continues her fight against injustice in every way she can, from leading others to freedom as a conductor on the Underground Railroad to heading up an armed military operation. For Lemmons, Harriet’s story is “a superhero journey… with a real-life superheroine." Without exaggerating or mythicizing Tubman's exploits, Lemmons makes clear Tubman's remarkable achievement and the powerful lessons on self-determination she has left generations. As The Washington Post points out, “she’s a woman of action, an agent of change who, when she’s not in prayerful communication with God, is getting to work interceding on God’s behalf.”

Watch Harriet now on iTunes or Amazon.

The official trailer for Harriet.

Hanna | A girl on a mission

As the title heroine of Joe Wright’s HannaSaoirse Ronan plays a take-no-prisoners, world-class assassin. Hanna is also only fifteen. Raised and trained in the Arctic wilds by her ex-CIA agent father (Eric Bana), Hanna confronts her destiny when she must go out into the world to track down a rogue intelligence agent played with delicious villainy by Cate Blanchett. Capable of disarming bad guys like an experienced action hero, Hanna is also naïve about the world around her. “Like any teenager,” explains Ronan, “I can empathize with Hanna's desire to see the world, but for her it happens at 100 miles an hour.”  Ronan makes this young woman so special through, as New York Magazine points out, “the tension she creates between Hanna’s inhumanly agile body and quizzical eyes, which turn cold only when she pulls the trigger.”

Watch Hanna now on iTunes or at Amazon.

Go behind the scenes with this special Hanna featurette.

Mary Queen of Scots | Reclaiming history

In Josie Rourke’s Mary Queen of ScotsSaoirse Ronan again stars as a woman of action, albeit this time on a global stage. Returning to Scotland at nineteen, the young queen must confront the petty intrigues and power-hungry lords in her royal court as well as the political machinations of her cousin to the south, Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie). Wanting to correct history’s dismissal of Mary as “an emotionally driven and politically hopeless femme fatale,” Rourke created her as strategic leader. In the film, Mary is willing to do anything—from leading her army into war to taking down the men who betrayed her—to save her country and ensure her son, James I, eventually assumes the crown of both England and Scotland. Ronan’s spirited performance challenges history’s one-sided account of Mary, creating instead, as Entertainment Weekly notes, “a figure so strong-willed, intelligent, and vivaciously alive that even would-be rivals and saboteurs seem to wilt inside her force field.”

Watch Mary Queen of Scots now on iTunes or at Amazon.

The "Court and Queen" featurette for Mary Queen of Scots.

Atomic Blonde | Taking it to the limit

In David Leitch’s Atomic BlondeCharlize Theron kicks open the door for a new type of female spy. As Lorraine Broughton, a British intelligence agent who travels to Germany just as the Berlin Wall is coming down, Theron plays her character at full volume as she attempts to untangle an impossible knot of double crosses and double agents in a post Cold War Berlin. As an action star, Theron uses her natural agility and years of ballet training to help her become what W Magazine calls “the Ultimate Hollywood Badass.” In the process, she also reframes what is possible for women.  “I’m trying to break these forms of how women ought to behave in movies,” Theron says. “Maybe they shouldn’t behave at all.”

Watch Atomic Blonde now on iTunes or at Amazon.

The official trailer for Atomic Blonde.

The Beguiled | Finding a new perspective

In her thriller The BeguiledSofia Coppola reframes a Civil War tale to see it from a woman’s perspective. In 1864, when a wounded Union soldier (Colin Farrell) is found inside the grounds of Southern girls school, the students bring him inside their hallowed halls to care for him. When the emotions sparked by this strange, handsome stranger—ranging from a young student’s flirtation (Elle Fanning) to a teacher’s heated infatuation (Kirsten Dunst)—threaten to inflame the whole school, the headmistress (Nicole Kidman) takes swift and shocking action to bring back order and gentility. For Coppola, Thomas Cullinan's original novel, as well as Clint Eastwood’s 1971 adaptation, “are classic of that genre but I was excited to make a different version with their [the women’s] point of view.” Indeed, this lush, sensual reworking turns the table on both this type of Southern Gothic and the viewer’s expectations. As IndieWire puts it, if Farrell’s character “thinks that he’s stumbled into a male fantasy, he’ll soon find that this fantasy may not belong to him.”

Watch The Beguiled now on iTunes or at Amazon.

The official trailer for The Beguiled.

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