LA PLANTE, LYNDA

British Writer

Considered one of the most important contemporary British television dramatists, Lynda La Plante is energetic, prolific and has achieved success in several diverse media fields. Originally an actress, La Plante is also a best-selling novelist and currently runs her own production company, La Plante Productions, as well as having gained both popular and critical recognition for her serious and intelligent television dramas. Apart from her series Lifeboat (1994), which was centred on the intrigues of a coastal community (almost in the fashion of a soap opera), La Plante's dramas have been generally constructed round the imperatives of crime, punishment and underworld intrigue.

As an actress, La Plante appeared on British television in several well-known crime series of the late 1970s and early 1980s, including The Sweeney and The Gentle Touch. Usually typecast as either a prostitute or a gangsters' moll, La Plante's experience of television acting not only ensured that she was grounded in the narrative dynamics of the British Crime Series, but was also made only too aware of the subordinate role generally assigned to female characters in the genre. Having written for her own pleasure since her childhood, La Plante began to write and submit her own scripts for various current Police Series, scripts which attempted to create roles for women which were much more intelligible, independent and less subordinate to men. As fate would have it, one of her scripts, entitled The Women, ended up on the desk of producer Verity Lambert at Euston Films at a time when she and her colleague Linda Agran were consciously looking for television dramas which would feature women both at the centre of events and the action. The Women became the series Widows which was broadcast to great public acclaim in 1983 and which was to transform La Plante's career from actress to television dramatist.

Despite the centrality of women in her writing career, whether as characters such as Dolly Rawlins (Widows and She's Out) and Jane Tennison (Prime Suspect), or as producers such as Lambert, La Plante has eschewed any identification with feminism or feminist agendas. Although undeniably aware of the questions raised and changes brought about by "second wave" feminism, she has included what might be seen to be women's issues (such as Tennison's abortion in the Prime Suspect series) in incidental rather than pivotal positions in her dramas.

It would also be true to say that La Plante's female heroines are neither saintly nor unproblematic. Dolly Rawlins murdered her husband, and Jane Tennison finds it necessary to repress her own emotional needs to the extent that she not only obscures much of her own femininity (qualities traditionally accepted as feminine such as care and compassion) but, at times, she seemingly manages to lose all humanity.

Despite the problematic nature of her heroines, La Plante's work has still, however, been accused by some critics of producing an underlying subtext which actively espouses ideas of the politically correct and which succeeds in portraying all men as bastards and oppressors of women. On reflection, it would seem, rather, that La Plante has, in fact, provided some of the most disturbingly frank yet sympathetic male characters to appear on British television in recent times. In programmes such as Civvies (but also in Comics and Prime Suspect), La Plante has uniquely explored the bonds of love between heterosexual men. Although poorly received by public and critics (because of its brutality and lack of sentiment), Civvies undoubtedly portrays extraordinary love between men. Male violence is often at the heart of La Plante's work. She does not excuse it, nor does she shy away from its reality and implications. In many ways she is eager to get to the heart of this violence and depict it in a matter of fact way. This can be seen in a more formalised way in Seconds Out, Prime Suspect and to a lesser extent in Framed, where La Plante explores some of the dynamics of boxing. She displays obvious fascination with how dimensions of male physicality and brutality are enacted and performed in boxing competitions, training sessions and sparring bouts.

La Plante's dramas, on the whole, do not champion either sex, but try to discuss both inequalities and power relations as they exist within society. For the most part, her protagonists (both male and female) stand for reason, the ability to think intelligently, and for expertise. In her dramas, La Plante is not interested in small-scale petty crime; she is preoccupied by both exceptional crimes and feats of exceptional detection. La Plante's crime dramas often focus on the minutiae of planning (Widows, Prime Suspect, Framed, She's Out) and the exhibition of particular skills and expertise such as Gloria's demonstration of weapons in She's Out.

A concern for realism and accuracy of procedure (whether in a police station, a pathology lab or a prison) has become one of the hallmarks of La Plante's work. Her dramas are based on her own detailed and painstaking research and her elaborate and detailed scripts demand absolute accuracy of mise-en-scene, performance and procedure. With the formation of her own production company, it will be interesting to follow the possible future effects of her enhanced influence and control over her own dramatic products.

-Ros Jennings


Lynda La Plante
Photo courtesy of Graham Associates

LYNDA LA PLANTE. Born in Liverpool, Merseyside, England, 1946. Began career as an actress, but later turned to scriptwriting and production; founded La Plante production company, 1995.

TELEVISION SERIES

1983 Widows
1986 Hidden Talents
1991 Prime Suspect
1992 Civvies
1992 Seconds Out
1992 Framed
1993 Seekers
1993 Comics
1994 Lifeboat (also produced)
1994 In the Firing Line (presenter)
1994 She's Out (also co-produced)
1995 Prime Suspect 3
1995 The Governor

FURTHER READING

Rennert, Amy, editor. Helen Mirren: Prime Suspect: A Celebration. San Francisco, California: KQED Books, 1995.

 

See also Mirren, Helen; Prime Suspect