Who’s not in love with Gillian Anderson starring as Stella Gibson?! Speak now or forever hold your peace! She’s sexy as hell and sexual and attractive as natural as she can be. I’m in awe. I still love her from kissing Archie Panjabi in “The Good Wife”.
It’s not just the black-noir subjects of “The Fall”, it’s the transfixed image of Gillian Anderson converts Stella to. It’s not just her attraction to women, it’s the attraction of the watcher to her, she’s smart, observative and far more intelligent than her male colleagues that are set somehow above her, although they’re so much going under.
Here’s what she has to say when a fellow detective questions her about an emotionally detached one night stand with a handsome cop:
“Man fucks woman. Subject: man; verb: fucks; object: woman. That’s OK. Woman fucks man. Woman: subject; man: object. That’s not so comfortable for you, is it?”
When a constable wants to use the word “innocent” to describe the killer’s victims—hitherto all professional and attractive brunettes in their late 20s or early 30s—in a press release, Gibson cuts him off:
“Let’s not refer to them as innocent…What if he kills a prostitute next or a woman walking home drunk, late at night, in a short skirt? Will they be in some way less innocent, therefore less deserving? Culpable? The media loves to divide women into virgins and vamps, angels or whores. Let’s not encourage them.”
Gibson is the type of detective who will continue to remember the women murdered as people rather than cases and, when alone, will weep for them. She’s also the type of detective who can break a man’s nose with a quick upper cut or, with calculating detachment, sit across from a dangerous criminal in an interrogation room as he hurls abuse at her. She’s smart, brave, capable and unapologetically sexual—a matinee idol for a modern-day feminist.
Gillian said : „I like Stella a lot, I really like her. I understood her without being told anything”
None of this bodes well for the third series of The Fall, the BBC’s riveting drama about a serial killer in Belfast being hunted by Anderson’s DSI Stella Gibson. In the first episode of the new series, Paul Spector (Jamie Dornan) – who was shot at the end of the last one – is in the operating theatre having abdominal surgery to save his life. And boy, is there blood – a lot of it.
There is a wonderful scene in which the camera draws back on the chaotic aftermath in the trauma room, revealing all the visceral detritus and discarded shoes and bits of clothing – it’s like a still life by Sam Peckinpah.
Anderson, as the inscrutable Gibson, continues her battle of wits with Spector, though she is now under investigation for allowing him to be shot while in police custody.
There are moments of great tenderness in this episode; but I can also reveal that Spector’s nurse in hospital is young and pretty with black hair, rather like his favourite type of strangulation date…
Gibson is perfect territory for Gillian Anderson: enigmatic and acerbic, endlessly sexy, but with a certain moral ambiguity. Anderson has described her as an island, and had no trouble getting under her skin.
Even when considering the lingering camera shots of the victims or the way Gillian Anderson will undresses in the soft lighting of her hotel room, it’s still hard to view The Fall as an exercise in misogyny. (If you want to make it tit for tat, it’s worth pointing out that the shots of women are no more gratuitous than the frequent scenes in which Jamie Dornan—a real-life former underwear model—strips down to boxer briefs as the camera pans slowly across his muscular body.) If anything, it’s a critique of masculinity, misogyny and all the ways that the audience is implicit in it. It’s a messy world, but, thankfully, we have Stella Gibson as our guide.
At a certain point in the plot, you might start to mistake The Fall as a twisted sort of love story. Dornan and Anderson are both striking in their beauty and, despite never being on camera together, they have a palpable chemistry as they get deeper and deeper into one another’s heads. It’s not a perception that showrunner Allan Cubitt let’s you get away with—at least not comfortably. When one detective suggests that Gibson might be fascinated with the killer to the point of sexual attraction, she replies with the patient weariness of a woman who’s been expecting this question all along:
“A woman, I forget who, once asked a male friend why men felt threatened by women. He replied that they were afraid that women might laugh at them. When she asked a group of women why women felt threatened by men, they said, ‘We’re afraid they might kill us.’ He might fascinate you. I despise him with every fiber of my being.”
“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them” is a Margaret Atwood quote that comes up a lot in feminist discussions, but rarely is it stated so plainly on a mainstream television show. It’s particularly remarkable for the crime genre, a genre typically plagued with deaths of women who are never given true identities and the gruff male detectives who take over their stories.
And therein lies the beauty of The Fall. While women are often victimized for senseless reasons (much as they are in real life), they’re given an advocate—a strong female advocate—who will never strip them of their complexities. Stella Gibson knows their fears, their joys and the right they had—the right that was taken from them—to live their lives free from violence or aggression.
‘Gillian is particular and meticulous. She understands what a shot is going to look like according to what lens you’ve got on the camera and so on,’ Cubitt says, ‘and she brings all of that to bear as well as being an intuitive and emotionally powerful actor. No one could render the character better.’
Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson is a complex woman. Cubitt rebelled against the archetypal TV detective with a dysfunctional trait: ‘They gamble or they drink or they have a failing marriage or a difficult daughter. I wanted to create a character who didn’t bring any obvious baggage into the story at the beginning, someone who you’d get to know little by little.
I felt this reflected the way things work in life: you meet people in a professional context and gradually, through the choices they make, you start to form an opinion of them. It’s not all laid out for you on a plate; you don’t immediately know about people’s childhood or their inner life, and so the idea was that she would be a fairly enigmatic character, and reveal herself gradually to the audience.
‘Gillian has always really embraced that aspect of Gibson. In fact, early on in the first season, if there was anything I was doing that revealed too much about [the character] she’d encourage me to take it out, so there’s still a lot left to learn.’
The ambiguities of The Fall’s characters are one of the appealing things about the series. They are fallible in a credible way; not all good or all bad. The sadistic Spector, for example, while fond of torturing and strangling women, is very loving to his young daughter, Olivia; and Gibson herself makes some mistakes.
‘Yes, some decisions that Stella makes are very questionable – and I like that. I’ll think, “You just lied!”’ gasps Anderson.
‘How does that square with the rest of how you carry yourself? That is so interesting…’ Do you recognise that quality in yourself, a certain recklessness? She thinks for a moment.
‘Yeah. I am a mix of normal, safe, quiet, regimented, serious, morally and ethically led – or at least I try to be for the most part.
am intrigued: you still have the reckless instincts you had when you were younger, but you choose to go the other way? ‘Yes. Maybe yes.’ Were you wild when you were younger? ‘Mmmm…’ she says, nodding.
And she was. Drugs – lots of them – and alcohol, along with stylistic misdemeanours such as piercings and adventurous hairstyles – followed by therapy when she was only 14. Anderson was born in Chicago but moved to London when she was two.
‘We started in Clapham Common, sleeping in other people’s places for a while, sharing flats, then found a place in Crouch End, then Harringay.’
Her mother was a computer programmer and her father went to the London School of Film Technique, in Covent Garden, and opened a little shop selling old-fashioned cameras, with a friend who was a puppeteer. Then the family moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where her father ran a film post-production company.
Given her own adolescence, what kind of parent is she? ‘It’s interesting: on the one hand I feel as if I’ve gotten off easy with my daughter and how sane she is at 21, but then every now and then I think, “Oh, it just hasn’t come yet” – and if it does then I question how equipped I would be.
‘I think I’m incredibly trusting and lenient because of my own experiences, and I don’t watch over her, I don’t check things – I’ve never been that kind of mother. I love her with an open hand.’
Good genes, she thinks, are more effective than surgery. ‘There are so many things you can do these days without going under the knife: natural solutions. I’m not necessarily anti-surgery; I’m anti the shame that is attached to women who make that choice, rightly or wrongly, in their own mind.
‘I think it’s unfortunate that there is so much pressure on women, and yet they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. That is heinous.
‘But I must say very honestly that I am lucky. In a few years there may be something I find intolerable, and I’m not going to say I wouldn’t buckle. I hope that I would be comfortable enough with myself not to, but I have to allow for the fact that I am an actor, and there is vanity in me. There have been times when I’ve observed myself ageing and mourned my youth, and I am always shocked by that.
‘I guess all one can do is try to make sure that the motivation for those types of choices is coming from the right place.’ Anderson is honest about all this, but her feminist credentials and belief in the part women can play on the political stage are at the core of her being. She is co-writing a book called We: A Manifesto for Modern Women with journalist Jennifer Nadel. ‘It’s a set of guiding principles.’
And she recently took part in MP Jo Cox’s memorial service in London. She didn’t know Cox, but ‘I was asked if I would read a poem, and I liked the poem and it felt like the right thing to do. It was a beautiful event; Malala [Yousafzai] was there, which almost brought me to tears.
‘I was so moved and inspired by what she said. She’s something to be reckoned with.’ She is optimistic about Yousafzai’s generation.
‘There’s a lot of powerful thinkers and activists and doers out there, who feel like they’ve got something to say and are not going to sit back and be dictated to – it’s fantastic.’