Older women getting more on-screen roles, says Lesley Manville | Film

Lesley Manville

Actor says industry is slowly recognising that audiences do not want to feel alienated

Lesley Manville has been nominated for a Bafta and an Oscar for her role in Phantom Thread.
Photograph: Dan Wooller/Rex/Shutterstock

The actor Lesley Manville has said she has seen a slow sea change in attitudes toward older women in film and television as the industry realises audiences do not want to feel alienated.

Manville, a familiar face on TV, film and stage, said it was now OK to be 60 on screen. “You can have a lover at 60. You don’t have to be shoved in a corner in a cardigan doing knitting,” she said in an interview with the Radio Times.

“That’s because film and television-makers realise that there is a huge audience of women who want to go to the cinema or turn on the telly and see stuff that doesn’t alienate them, that embraces them, that isn’t just about gorgeous 20- or 30-somethings, that represents their lives.”

Manville’s comments were echoed by Anna Friel who, in a separate Radio Times interview, said there were finally a reasonable number of strong roles for women in their 40s.

“I did wonder about turning 40 and being thrown on the scrapheap,” said Friel, 41, soon to be seen in the second series of the ITV crime drama Marcella.

“Apart from the shell changing, everything else changes in a much more positive way. Wisdom, compassion, empathy, values, being parents – we’re learning that people want to watch people they can relate to, not just the unachievable. We’ve got enough of that with the superhero movies.”

Manville is nominated for best supporting actress at this weekend’s Baftas and at next month’s Oscars for her role alongside Daniel Day Lewis in the Paul Thomas Anderson film Phantom Thread.

Strikingly, none of the women nominated in the category at the Oscars – Manville, Laurie Metcalf, Allison Janney, Octavia Spencer and Mary J Blige – are under the age of 40. “Isn’t that good? To be alongside those women!”

Manville was nominated for a Bafta in 2011 for the Mike Leigh film Another Year, but this is her first Oscar nomination and she admitted feeling giddy. The ceremony will be something of a family affair in that Gary Oldman, her ex-husband, is nominated in the best actor category for his portrayal of Winston Churchill in The Darkest Hour.

Manville is currently reprising her role in Long Day’s Journey Into Night alongside Jeremy Irons in London’s West End and next week she will be seen in the BBC Two sitcom Mum.

In a separate interview with the Press Association, Manville said the sitcom, about a suburban woman who attempts to move on after her husband’s death, was evidence of how things were improving.

“I think there is a feeling now, and I have been saying it for about five years – and sometimes people think I’m just saying it because things are alright for me and my career – but I think it’s getting better for older women.

“I think there is a shift: the distributors of films, they realise there’s a huge market for an audience of women over 40 who want to go and see things that deal with their lives, that don’t distance them from it because they’re looking at some svelte 22-year-old in a Wonder Woman outfit.”

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