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Widows (1983-85)

Courtesy of FremantleMedia

Main image of Widows (1983-85)
Euston Films for Thames/ITV, 16/3/1983-8/5/1985
12 x 60 min episodes in two series, colour
DirectorsIan Toynton
 Paul Annett
ProducersLinda Agran
 Irving Teitelbaum
ScriptLynda La Plante

Cast: Dolly Rawlins (Ann Mitchell); Linda Perelli (Maureen O'Farrell); Shirley Miller (Fiona Hendley); Bella O'Reilly (Eva Mottley); Bella O'Reilly (Debby Bishop); Harry Rawlins (Maurice O'Connell); Det Insp George Resnick (David Calder)

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Dolly Rawlins' husband is killed in a security van heist, but she has access to his secret plans and contacts. She recruits the other bereaved women to carry out their own daring raid, but all is not as it seems.

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Widows started with a bang, and then proceeded to dismantle the traditional crime drama that Euston had made its own. It deliberately opened like an episode of The Sweeney (ITV, 1975-78) with a security van heist in full swing, but the robbery goes horribly wrong, and the gang are killed in an explosion in the first few minutes. At a stroke, the story is taken over by the eponymous widows, who, under the leadership of Dolly Rawlins, decide to carry out the heist themselves.

This radical shift of focus was particularly striking at the time because most crime thrillers, whether made by Euston or other companies, tended to feature women as either clinging spouses or brassy tarts, but nearly always as ciphers rather than convincing characters. It is appropriate, then, that Widows was created by an actress who had spent much of her career playing similarly unrewarding parts. Lynda Marchal had been in small roles in both The Sweeney and Out (ITV, 1978), before submitting a pilot script under the pseudonym of Lynda La Plante. Euston were quick to spot the story's potential, and the script-editor Linda Agran (after recovering from the shock of discovering the author's true identity) encouraged La Plante to write the entire serial herself, despite the misgivings of the fledgling writer.

Although Widows undoubtedly subverts the traditional masculinity of the crime thriller, it does not grant the female characters independence from their male counterparts. Dolly, in particular, despite being a fearsome leader, remains in love with Harry and is partly defined by her inability to have children, which results in her devotion to her pet poodle. This has been a problematic area for some critics, but it's a measure of the success of Widows that it generated an enduring debate about the role of women in drama (and the production of drama) while at the same time drawing consistently high audiences. The series is certainly patchy, with some of the performances in particular being weak or mannered, but its use of female characters caught the imagination of the public, and it has subsequently influenced a host of television drama, from La Plante's own Prime Suspect (ITV, 1991-2003) to Band of Gold (ITV, 1995-96) and beyond. This success also led to a couple of undistinguished sequels that were soon forgotten, but Widows retains its position as one of the most influential dramas of the 1980s.

John Williams

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Video Clips
1. Last minute nerves (3:43)
2. The robbery (8:32)
3. An intruder (3:28)
Complete episode (45:55)
Prime Suspect (1991-2006)
Sweeney, The (1975-78)
La Plante, Lynda (1943-)
Lambert, Verity (1935-2007)
Euston Films