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'Girlfriends': There's womanpower in this story of female friendship

Ken Tucker
Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
Miranda Richardson, Zoe Wanamaker, and Phyllis Logan in “Girlfriends.” (Photo: Acorn TV)

What could be more timely than a new show about female friendship and unity? Girlfriends, a comic drama now streaming on Acorn TV, is a striking example of this with a remarkable cast. The British series centers around three longtime friends, played by Phyllis Logan (Mrs. Hughes of Downton Abbey), Miranda Richardson (numerous films including Damage and the Harry Potter movies), and Zoe Wanamaker (Mr. Selfridge). At the start of the premiere, Logan’s Linda loses her husband — literally: They’re on a sea cruise; she walks into their stateroom, the window’s open, the sea is churning, and he’s gone.

With her husband presumed dead, Linda returns from her holiday a widow. She reunites with Richardson’s Sue, a magazine editor who is feeling the pinch of ageism in her company’s office politics, and Wanamaker’s Gail, who’s stressed about caring for her elderly mother and her petty-criminal son. Friends for more than 40 years, the trio used to sing pop songs together and dreamed of a Spice Girls-style stardom before there were Spice Girls. Now in late middle age, they’re all facing down their failures in life as well as plotting their next acts.

Created by writer Kay Mellor (creator of such excellent British series as Band of Gold and Playing the Field), Girlfriends trades on some standard older-ladies-doing-wacky-things humor, but that’s just to put you at ease. In very different ways, men have let down each of these women, and much of the show is about their realization that they only have each other and their own inner resolve, to depend on. Linda is positioned as the central figure in the first episode, and Logan’s fluttery demeanor and long, crinkly hair take her miles away from prim Mrs. Hughes in Downton. As the premiere hour proceeds, though, Richardson is the real scene-stealer: The ways she makes Sue’s hurt and anger at being replaced by a younger woman at work sting, and are at once piercingly dramatic and frantically funny — it reminds you that Richardson, considered a dead-serious actress here in America, once had a lot of madcap fun in the great Rowan Atkinson series Blackadder.

Girlfriends is also an excellent series to introduce you to Acorn TV if you’re not already familiar with it. The streaming service is loaded with British programming for the Anglophile in you — ranging from the familiar (Doc Martin, Midsomer Murders) to shows you ought to know and love, such as Detectorists, Janet King, and 800 Words. Get hip to it.

Girlfriends is streaming now on Acorn TV.

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