Television isn’t hurting for lack of angry women right now, but it’s still startling to make direct eye contact with them as one must with “Snatches.” BBC America’s new series of short films — eight in total — honors the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote in England by centering furious, aching, excited, miserable women from various crucial points in the country’s recent history. Entirely written and directed by women, each episode of “Snatches” (an unfortunate double entendre of a title) stars actors like Jodie Comer (“Killing Eve”), Antonia Thomas (“The Good Doctor”), and Siobhan Finneran (“Downton Abbey”); each holds their own on a sparse set, giving lengthy monologues directly to camera.
While it makes logistical sense that BBC America aired all eight back-to-back (each installment runs an efficient 12 to 15 minutes long), watching “Snatches” all at once is a jarring, even upsetting experience — but then again, that’s the point. As directed by Vanessa Caswill and Rachna Suri, each woman demands her audience’s full attention, having rarely been afforded the luxury of such consideration before.
Almost all the shorts are pegged to a historical moment or movement that changed the shape of women’s public and private lives. The first, “Compliance,” is perhaps the most expected, taking on the recent #MeToo reckoning with Romola Garai starring as an up-and-coming actress whose producer assaults her in a hotel room. The script from “Iron Lady” writer Abi Morgan errs towards bluntness, sometimes distractingly so. But given Garai’s real-life revelation of going to meet Harvey Weinstein at a hotel when she was 18 years old only to find the producer in nothing but a bathrobe, “Compliance” is nonetheless searing.
Other “Snatches” shorts are even more specific. “Reclaim the Night,” set in Yorkshire circa 1977, lets a teen girl (played by Liv Hill) work through her frustration at her town’s police responding to a serial killer by setting a curfew for women rather than one for men. “Pritilata” is the only short written for and about a historical figure, letting Indian revolutionary Pritilata Waddedar (Tanika Gupta) explain how her anger at British colonialists dictating her country’s every move inspired her to lay siege to a European club in 1933, where a sign reading “no dogs and Indians allowed” made their disdain clear. Both these entries brim over with palpable, justified anger, but lose some impact by making their characters avatars of fury rather than flesh and blood people.
The best one tied to a news headline might, however, be the eighth and only hypothetical entry. “Tipping Point,” written by Rachel de-Lehay, stars Thomas as a pregnant woman forced into hiding after the public finds out that her baby, once born, will officially tip the country’s white population into becoming a minority. While technically set in the near future, de-Lehay’s script and Thomas’ performance remain grounded in reality, laying bare the personal trials and costs of growing up a woman of color in a country harboring so much contempt for you.
Sometimes, the series’ little slices of history can become didactic, especially since most of the monologues are so clearly written, directed, and acted more with a stage in mind than the TV screen. But two of the most successful ones find a happy medium between teaching moments and blunt force attempts to make the audience feel things by making the monologues more personal than broadly representative of the moment they’re trying to portray.
“Bovril Pam” stars Comer as a shy but curious secretary in the ’60s, who gets a tip that one of her coworkers might be able — and extremely willing — to help her discover her own body and attraction to women. Comer, who’s more than proven her ability to shapeshift on “Killing Eve,” leans into her character’s wide-eyed giddiness with relish, taking Vicky Jones’ funny and empathetic script and finding all the humor and personality expertly tucked in its corners. “Pig Life,” on the other hand, couldn’t look and feel more different. Shirley Henderson spends the entire monologue lying down on a bed, her face surrounded by undulating limbs pushing in on her from underneath as she talks about the everyday horror of being raped by her husband — which, E.V. Crowe’s script reminds us, was legal in the U.K. until 1991, when this monologue takes place. Henderson plays her character with a sharp, soft-spoken intensity that draws you into her pain, closer and closer until suddenly, it seems, the bed has swallowed her up completely.
For all their stark differences in tone, both “Bovril Pam” and “Pig Life” invite us into the intimacy of their bedrooms in order to invite us into their pains and pleasures. Despite their period-era trappings, as “Snatches” proves in its best moments, they prove startlingly, pressingly relevant.
Drama, 15 mins. Premiered November 4 on BBC America, currently available to watch on BBCAmerica.com.
Cast: Jodie Comer, Shirley Henderson, Antonia Thomas, Romola Garai, Liv Hill, Siobhan Finneran, Corinne Skinner-Carter, and Kiran Sonia Sawar.
Crew: Executive producer: Debbie Christie; directors Vanessa Caswill and Rachna Suri.