Female rivalry has long had the power to fascinate, with writers, filmmakers and showrunners often pitting one woman against another in a bid to capitalize on it.
Recently, though, there’s been a discernible shift in how we depict women’s relationships, with Mary, Queen of Scots — opening in theaters today (December 7) – the latest film to do more than depict simple queen-on-queen action. Like its 1971 predecessor starring Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson, it plays fast and loose with history, but it also draws out the complicated relationship between the two cousins and rivals Mary (Saoirse Ronan) and Queen Elizabeth I (Margot Robbie).
Below are ten recent films and shows that give more emotional depth and significance to the relationships between women.
1. My Brilliant Friend (2018)
Based on the global best-selling novel by Elena Ferrante, this series follows childhood friends Elena (Margherita Mazzucco) and Lila (Gaia Girace) as they grow up in Naples, Italy. Often in open competition, they love and hate each other in equal measure — offering a depiction of female friendship that’s complex and at times painfully accurate.
2. The Favourite (2018)
Yorgos Lanthimos‘s latest film pits Emma Stone against Rachel Weisz as two cousins vying for the titular role in the court of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman). Their rivalry can be catty and nasty, but both women are portrayed as strong, power-hungry females with plenty of agency and darkness of their own. Above all though, it’s bloody funny.
3. Killing Eve (2018)
This quirky cat-and-mouse thriller nails the complexity of female rivalry: there’s a murderous edge to Eve and Villanelle’s obsession with one another, but there’s a longing there, too. On one hand, there’s Eve (Sandra Oh), a sometimes scatterbrained intelligence officer who yearns to be a spy instead of a desk drone, and then there’s Villanelle (Jodie Comer), an impeccably dressed, psychopathic assassin.
4. I, Tonya (2017)
One of the most notorious incidents of supposed female rivalry is explored in this film, though it quickly becomes clear the infamous 1994 “plot” to attack Nancy Kerrigan (Caitlin Carver) had little to do with Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) herself, or any bad blood between the two figure skaters. The truth is much more mundane and sadder than that.
5. Feud: Bette and Joan (2017)
Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) and Joan Crawford (Jessica Lange) never lay a punch on each other, but their words are just as vicious and cutting as physical blows. The first installment in an anthology of famous feuds, this series explores the making of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), itself a tale of two ageing acting rivals.
6. Catfight (2016)
Sandra Oh faced another formidable female opponent before Villanelle, in the form of an old college friend played by Anne Heche in this startling comedy by filmmaker Onur Tukel. Their intense and irresistible mutual dislike is fueled by secret self-hate, and quickly escalates into out-and-out fisticuffs.
7. The Neon Demon (2016)
Nicolas Winding Refn‘s horror set in the fashionista world split critics on its release: for some, its depiction of female rivalry was brutal and honest, but for others, it was gruesome and misogynistic. Written by Refn with two female co-writers, Mary Laws and Polly Stenham, it follows “it” girl Jesse (Elle Fanning), whose rise to the top of the modelling world means destroying the competition.
8. Bridesmaids (2011)
The hilarious rivalry between Annie (Kirsten Wiig) and Helen (Rose Byrne) eventually takes a back seat to this film’s real central theme: Annie’s fracturing relationship with childhood best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph).
9. Black Swan (2010)
The rivalry between the two ballet dancers Nina (Natalie Portman) and Lily (Mila Kunis) reaches terrifying heights in this psychological thriller by director Darren Aronofsky. It culminates in a complete mental breakdown for Nina, who imagines Lily turning into her and being strangled by the Black Swan. Sure, they’re rivals, but it’s more Nina’s struggle with her own fears and self than rage at Lily.
10.Me Without You (2001)
Sandra Goldbacher‘s film follows the troubled relationship between two girls as they grow up: in Holly (Michelle Williams) and Marina (Anna Friel) it gives us two people who love one another, yet each know enough of the other’s weaknesses and foibles that they hold the power to turn on her at any time.
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