HALLIE EPHRON: I've just been in New York and had the pleasure of seeing the knock-out musical based on Roald Dahl's subversive children's book, MATILDA. Though the little girl and her teacher Miss Honey are lovely, and of course we root for them, the character that wormed her way into my affections was the arch villain, headmistress Agatha Trunchbull. Years ago, when I read Matilda to my daughters, we revelled in La Trunchbull, too.
On Broadway, the part is played with great relish by Bertie Carvell (the NY Times reviewer said compares his Trunchbull to a fascist on the verge of a nervous breakdown.) She is awesomely awful, truly terrifying and hilariously funny at the same time. Her motto is “Bambinatum est maggitum” (“Children are maggots.”)
All of this got me thinking about the memorable villainesses. Here are my picks for villainous infamy:
The Wicked Witch of the West (The Wizard of Oz)
Nurse Ratched (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest)
Dolores Umbridge (Harry Potter)
Alex Forrest (Fatal Attraction)
Annie Wilkes (Misery)
Mrs. Rachel Lynde (Anne of Green Gables)
Elle Driver (Kill Bill)
Cruella De Ville (101 Dalmations)
So what makes a female character wonderfully bad, and who would you add to the list?
ROSEMARY HARRIS: My favorite villainess may be Matty Walker (real name Mary Anne Simpson.) She was the dizzyingly amoral character in the movie Body Heat. "Matty was the kind of person who could do what had to be done." And she did. Yikes."
HALLIE: "Ooooh, I remember Kathleen Turner burning up the screen in that, her film debut. Great movie, too.
RO: Also memorable - although I can't say I liked her - was Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca. Thanks a lot for the tip on the dress, Danny. O'Brien in Downton Abbey owes a bit to her.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Ro, you are so right about the provenance of O'Brien!
Well, the wicked queen in Snow White--the one with the apple, right? Or is that Sleeping Beauty? I have her photo (!) on my bulletin board at work. Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada--okay, she's not a villain-villain, but she's terrific. And how about Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker? She was pretty great. And I don't want to do a spoiler, but did anyone see Witness for the Prosecution? (kind of.) And as I was packing to come home for Malice, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane was on. I couldn't watch it!
RHYS BOWEN: Hank, you stole my top choice--Miranda Priestly from the Devil Wears Prada. So frighteningly understated. Also I'd choose Cruella Deville. Lady Macbeth. Others that stand out... Miss Hannigan in Annie, the headmistress in The Little Princess. I guess it's particularly evil to pick on children and animals.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Villainess I love: Maleficent, from Disney's Sleeping Beauty. The rest of the women in the story give birth, dance around with birds, and do domestic chores (badly.) Not Maleficent. She keeps herself looking good (probably has a complete gym up there in her magic cave.) Instead of getting depressed when she's not invited to the big do at the castle, she crashes the party (and throws in a few curse while she's at it.)
She doesn't sit around passively hoping her goals will somehow come to pass - when the King burns all the spinning wheels, Maleficent takes her spindle to the secret room in the castle and Gets It Done herself. She doesn't let any man, even a hunky Prince, get in the way of what she wants. When Maleficent gets hot flashes, its because she's turned herself into a dragon and is breathing fire. What woman wouldn't want that?
LUCY BURDETTE: Miranda Priestly was truly amazing. She gets my vote. And that's why I want Meryl Streep to play Hayley's mother when the food critic mysteries are made into movies. She can play anything, from evil to sweet.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: All great choices, but I think dear Dolores Umbridge takes the cake for me. Bellatrix is certainly a villainess, but she's crazy AND tortured. Umbridge is just really, really evil, and SO enjoys it. Now I'm going to have Hello Kitty nightmares....
HALLIE: So today we're celebrating the bad bad women from fiction. Who would you add to our list?
***Sandi, you are the TOPPED CHEF winner from the drawing yesterday. Will you kindly email LucyBurdette at gmail dot com with your address?***