Five reasons to love Agent Carter

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Oh, Peggy.

Agent Carter, as nerds will know, was never meant to be a long-running series. Originally planned as an eight-episode one-off season hiatus filler for shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  (a rare Marvel property I haven’t been able to warm to), it developed just enough of a following for ABC to commission a second series, which is now playing out its final episodes on Fox in the UK.

While Peggy doesn’t get the kinds of ratings – or rapturous miles of column inches  -dedicated to Daredevil  and Jessica Jones on Netflix, it has attracted a hardcore of devoted fans (myself among them). With its short, sharp seasons that allow for a single story arc to be thoroughly plumbed without ever dragging, it’s a crystalline gem of a show. But I’m getting ahead of myself – five reasons, I promised, and here they are.

One – Hayley Atwell

To be honest, she could easily be five reasons on her own. But since she waltzed onto the screen with a spring in her step and a punch in her fist in Captain America: The First Avenger, who’s been able to take their eyes off Peggy? Atwell’s trick is to make Peggy an entire woman. A whole person. She has complex relationships, romantic and otherwise, she has to fight lazy sexism at work (it is the 1940s, but honestly some of these things really are still happening) and she’s sharp, capable and wryly funny. But she’s not just one of these things.  She says wonderful feminist things, but is not a cookie cutter feminist mouthpiece. She exhibits physical strength when she needs to, but doesn’t hide behind it. She has hurts and painful memories, but she rolls up her sleeves and gets the job done – acknowledging her pain but neither hiding it nor wallowing in it. Too many Strong Female Characters are only that – relentlessly, exhaustingly, tough. There’s a fullness to Peggy that harks back to the glory days of Buffy Summers, only without the post-adolescent whining. And with a glorious English accent.

To top it all, she looks fabulous. Besame Cosmetics 1946 Red Velvet, if you’re wondering.

Two – James D’Arcy

As the youthful Edwin Jarvis, D’Arcy’s bumbling English butler with a heart of gold and passionate belief in doing the right thing- even if it costs him – provides a much needed note of lightness. He’s charming but never slimy, and serves to remind Carter of the fact that just because she can do something alone, it doesn’t mean she has to. Carter’s main weakness is what is usually considered strength in male-centred narratives – her inability to ask for and reluctance to accept help. Would that there were more Jarvises in the boy stories….

Plus, he’s an Amersham boy, raised in west London and I did the opposite, so I feel kindly disposed.

Three – Diversity

This sounds quite po-faced, I know, but it’s actually a hugely refreshing thing to watch a comic book-based piece of creative and not just see a wall of strong, white men. Aside from Peggy there are a number of interesting female characters, including  two complex and indefatigable nemeses and an older, plus-size woman who is included for her intelligence and loyalty – not as a punchline. Of Carter’s colleagues, one of the most interesting is disabled (part of his character development, but not even close to dominating it), has a Latin surname and is played by an Albanian-American actor. In season two, a potential love interest for Carter is a black man. Jarvis’ newly-introduced wife is Jewish.

It’s definitely not perfect – what is? – but I applaud what seem to me deliberate attempts to at the very least balance the gender narrative, and begin to take steps towards tackling wider race and disability inclusiveness.

Four – Humour

If it’s all sounded a bit heavy-handed so far, let that be my fault; one of my very favourite things about Agent Carter is its relative lightness. It sounds weird to say this about a programme that has so far seen a cinema full of people bludgeon each other to death under the influence of a mysterious chemical, a major character badly injured by being impaled on a metal pole and man blown up with a bomb vest as he plummets out of a window to save others from the explosion. But unlike Daredevil‘s relentless gore and Jessica Jones‘ psychological warfare, Agent Carter really does feel like a Marvel comic book – violent, yes, but not gratuitously and with regular infusions of light relief, a touch of slapstick and a hint of romance.

If Daredevil feels to me like Marvel stepping into live-action territory usually dominated by DC, Agent Carter is an explosion of colour and light: modern Marvel at its best.

Five – Short seasons

I’ve bored the pants off a few friends with my theories on how series length can make or break things for me. I genuinely think the Netflix-length 13-episode arc is what’s made the two Defenders shows so far so good (imagine that single Kilgrave storyline extending to 22 episodes; no matter how excellent Jessica Jones is – and it is – and how marvellous both Krysten Ritter and David Tenant are – and they are – around episode 18 of same-old you’d be about ready to hand yourself in for a lifetime of mind control). Eight episodes is basically four films. It’s enough time to extend into some backstory, spin off a few interesting sidelines and set up some possibilities for the next season without labouring. Season 2 has extended to ten, but it still feels tightly plotted and just leaves a little more breathing space for the slightly expanded ensemble cast.

Without wishing to sound as if things were better in my day – eleventy hundred years ago – I do think both films and many seasons of television have become, of late, more self-indulgent and far too long than ever; maybe it’s for money or maybe it’s because no-one has the heart to tell Peter Jackson to stop it, but there really is something to be said for leaving the audience wanting more. When season one of Agent Carter ended, I was bereft, because there was so much more left to tell. I will be the first to say when I think it’s been overtold. But two seasons in and there is a wealth material to explore – I’m definitely entirely behind a third season (pretty please ABC?).

And now to get ready to say goodbye again. Sob.

 

London in summer: Fashion on the Ration at the Imperial War Museum

IMG_6755Those of you who have been here before know I like to dip my (peep)toe into vintage waters with increasing regularity; I don’t have a set era as such and quite enjoy mixing things up, but mid-century is as good a description as any – by which I mean roughly 1940-1965.

Enter the Imperial War Museum, whose Fashion on the Ration exhibition arrived – presumably by design – in the midst of a mixure of vintage hipster trendiness, the resurgence of traditional skills during a period of austerity, and the popularity of various fashion exhibitions in London (spearheaded by the V&A, whose Savage Beauty – a spectacular Alexander McQueen retrospective – is also still on, though only until 2nd August, and very much worth seeing).

IMG_6758The IWM’s exploration of 1940s street style is a short but rich, beautifully curated show, taking in the beginnings of clothing rationing in the UK – which lasted into the 1950s – and with a thorough look at the Utility clothes era. This, for those unfamiliar with this period of history, was the point at which the British government got directly involved in clothing design through the creation of affordable, long-lasting clothing that aimed to achieve greater efficiency and equality in the use of precious clothing coupons. It ended up being the basis for modern clothing and fabric quality standards – and the bright prints, use of durable fabrics like rayon and elegant but simple styling so as to use resources sparingly all contributed strongly to what we probably have in our minds when we think of “1940s fashion”.

Drafting in well-known designers of the day helped to make Utility clothes desirable – they were originally greeted with suspicion, unsurprisingly – and a particular look emerged that balanced shabby chic (when it didn’t look good to be too well turned out with a war on) with morale-boosting looks said to support the war effort (can’t have the enemy see us looking dispirited!).

What makes this collection particularly lovely is the individual element; it’s peppered with stories about the original owners and makers of the fashions on display. One of my favourites was a gorgeously cut onesie for wearing over a nightie if an air raid happened overnight. It was accompanied by a note from the original owner expressing her surprise at owning such an item, and it had something noticeably lacking from the recent resurgence in popularity of jumpsuits – a rear flap for attending to a call of nature without having to disrobe!

The exhibition also makes the point that we’ve gone somewhat full circle with fashion – after a post-war boom period of disposable, quickly cycling trends, we’ve headed back into a make do and mend-inspired, thrifty era of slow fashion. And since 1940s and 1950s fashions were often built to last, some of the original fashions of the day continue to survive and be wearable – though of course every finite resource will suffer increasing scarcity.

Photography inside is prohibited, so below is a gallery of a few details from the gift shop in case that kind of thing tickles your fancy. Standard adult entry is £10 (concessions are available), under 5s go free and the rest of the museum is free to enter and packed to the gills with things to see, so you can make a bit of a day of it. Though Fashion on the Ration is only on until the end of August, it was easy to find available tickets, so while I’d recommend advance booking,  if you haven’t and you’re in the area I’d even chance it on the day.

No disclosure needed as this was a private trip.

Five reasons to love Collectif clothing

collectif I’m sure you’re all very smart and knew all these anyway. But it’s rare that I get all that excited about clothes – I like them, but I often struggle to find affordable stuff that fits and that is worth getting excited about. And I will always enjoy days in battered Uniqlo jeans and my 1980s EPCOT hoodie.

But anyway, just in case you didn’t know about this – or perhaps feel the same way – here are my five reasons to love Collectif.

1. It’s vintage-inspired without you having to actually look for vintage stuff. Which, while it’s lovely and addictive and incredibly rewarding, is also time-consuming and frequently disappointing (especially if, like me, you only ever find things you like in teeny, tiny sizes). Plus, vintage looks look awesome with flats. Which this never-wearing-heels-again woman is pretty happy with.

2. The size range is respectable, going from 8 to 22, and using a roughly 1940s ratio for the fit – which means that if you have a relatively broad waist-to-hip ratio, things will fit beautifully. And though I’m quite tall at just short of 5′ 9″, the longer skirt lengths means they still fall just below the knee and look fab. I’m a 14 in M&S but a 16 at Collectif, but I don’t care about going up a size when things fit perfectly (and we all know M&S is a bit of an ego massage anyway).

3. The prices aren’t low, but they are much lower than many similar brands. I ain’t never giving up my love for Vivien of Holloway, but I can’t afford a £100+ dress very often at all. So for everyday looks, Collectif is a much more accessible source. And there are excellent sales – I bought at least one skirt for just £15.

4. The service is a joy. Easy, quick returns (sadly, not everything can look good), stupid questions answered with grace and charm, and unexpected postal problems swifty resolved.

5. There are high street stores too! I haven’t actually visited one yet, but I’m very much going to. As soon as I can risk the dent to my bank account.

My favourite pieces so far have been this sturdy yet elegant navy cotton anchor-patterned cardigan (which, in spite of my shoddy photography, rightfully got much Instagram love), a slinky, high-waisted skirt and, well, another gorgeous high-waisted skirt. A nipped in cardigan, a stretchy VoH belt, some ridiculous earrings and a smear of silly-bright lipstick – it feels like do-anything armour on days when looking confident helps you to feel the same way.

Anything I’m less keen on? Well, cigarette pants look awful on me, but I don’t think I can blame them for that. Oh, and I’d love to see an even bigger accessory collection.

And hey, now it gives me plenty to wear at Bea’s

No sponsorship, just an honest bit of love because I felt like it.