Machiavellian Women in Film

Machiavellianism can be defined as an individual marked by personality characteristics of cunning and duplicity.

With specific references to the writings of Florentine theorist Niccolo Machiavelli who wrote the famous political treatise ‘The Prince’ (or Il Principe), Machiavellianism largely describes the dark triad personality characteristics which is largely seen as having a disregard for morality and an intense focus on personal gain and self interest

In commemoration of the hotly anticipated Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard, we at Close-Up have decided to celebrate all of those famous femme fatales’ that have graced our film screens over the years.  From the evil to the downright insane, here is a short look at Machiavellian Women in film….

Glen Close as The Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons (1998)

Who could forget Glen Close’s character in Dangerous Liaisons? The original femme fatale, this plain speaking, cunning, conniving morally corrupt, sexually ravenous Marquise was the title character of he controversial 1998 historical drama, directed by Stephen Frears.

The critically acclaimed film starring Glen Close, John Malkovich and Michelle Pfeiffer in leading roles and later recipient of three Academy awards (including Best Adapted Picture, Best Costume Design and Best Art Direction) is the tale of the plot of the immoral Marquise (Close) against her lover who recently ended their relationship, in which she aimed to arranging the seduction of her ex-lovers virgin fiancé Cécile (played by a fresh faced Uma Thurman).

With the help of the illustrious Vicomte de Valmont (Malkovich) who himself is on his own sexual path to destruction in attempting to lure the heavily religious but sweet natured Madam de Tourvel (Pfeiffer) who herself is married, what could possibly go wrong?

If you think it sounds complicated try watching the whole sordid affair, as Close’s Marquise is the king playing an elaborate games of Chess.

Natasha Little as Becky Sharp in Vanity Fair (1998 BBC mini-series to be specific)

An oldie this time, although there have been many adaptations of this much recanted tale (including the 2004 version starring Reese Witherspoon and Jonathan Rhys Meyers) by William Makepeace Thackeray (1947-8), we cannot help but praise Natasha Little’s characterization of the infamous Becky Sharp in the 1998 BBC adaption as the strong-willed and cunning enchantress determined to make her way in the world.

Explaining anything else about the tale will seemingly give to much away about the torrid affair of the things a women would have to do in order to make a life for themselves, Little as Becky Sharp will shock audiences with her coldness and ruthlessness as she attempt to establish her place in society.
Winner of the award for BBC Programme of the Year in the 1999 Television and Radio Industries Club Award, as well as the Special Jury Prize Winner and The Best TV series and Serials, Best Actress and Best Screenplay in the 1999 Biarritz International Festival of Audiovisual Programming, it seemed audiences and critics alike really enjoyed this worthy BBC adaption.

Sarah Michelle Geller as Kathryn Merteuil in Cruel Intentions (1999)

A modern reinterpretation of the Les Liaisons dangereuses novel written by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos in 1782 (much like Dangerous Liaisons), but this time set amongst the wealthy teenagers attending a modern NY high-school, Cruel Intentions stars Sarah Michelle Geller stars as the devious Kathryn Merteuil as she pulls Reese Witherspoon’s Annette into a wager between herself and step-brother Sebastian (Ryan Philippe).

Much like Dangerous Liaisons, this is a twisted tale of deception and sexual conquest as Kathryn intends to use her ex-lovers new beau Cecile (Selma Blair) to get revenge by wagering that her step brother Sebastian cannot sleep with her, despite the fact he already has his own plans to seduce the sweet virginal Annette, the daughter of the Schools headmaster. And all for the sake of car.

Again, much like the earlier adaptation, Cruel Intentions garnished huge commercial success (and two straight-to-video sequels Cruel Intentions 2 and 3) and award wins including Favourite Supporting Actress, Best Original Score, Best Movie Soundtrack, Best Female Performance and Best film in the 2000 Teen Choice Award.

Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister/Baratheon in the smash hit television-series Game of Thrones

The mum we all love to hate, who in modern day society does not know about the depravity of Lena Headey’s Cersei.

Probably the one character that GoT could have done with killing off as early as humanly possible, when she not pushing children from tower blocks in the hope of death, she’s sleeping with her twin brother to produce little illegitimate heirs to the throne, her depravity knowing no bounds.

For readers who don’t know why almost everyone dislikes this particular character in GoT, then we at SFF say beg, borrow and steal your copy of the box set and decide for yourself whether or not she deserves your hostility.

Louise Fletcher as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975)

Her evil was far from violence. Instead Nurse Ratched (played by the hard faced Louise Fletcher) method was to systematically destroy your soul. Often coined as the totalitarian dictator of the psych ward which makes up the main location for Miloš Forman 1975 One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, she’s the nurse you do not want to go up against, and Randal P. Mc. Murphy (played by the brilliant Jack Nicholson) gets more then he bargains for when he attempts to topple her from her throne, causing her  to retaliat by employing shock therapy and ritualistic humiliation as she makes a mockery of basic human rights laws.

Forman’s 1975 drama which boasts an all star cast including Danny DeVito, Louise Fletcher, Will Sampson and William Redfield to name a few, One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest is not only considered to be one of the greatest films ever made, but was the second film to have ever one all five major Academy Awards.

Now regarded as “culturally, historically and aesthetically significant” (by United States of Congress), for anyone not convinced by or description should really check it out for themselves.

Kim Basinger as Heather Evans in Final Analysis (1992)

Every bit as formidable as her male counterparts, Basinger’s role as Heather Evans, the sufferer of Episodic Dyscontrol Syndrome (pattern of abnormal, episodic violent and uncontrollable social behaviour in the absence of provocation that can result from abuse of alcohol of other psychoactive substances), she stars in Phil Joanou’s 1992 American neo-noir drama.

Also starring Richard Gere (as Dr. Isaac Barr), Eric Roberts (as Jimmy Evans, Heathers sexually possessive husband) and Uma Thurman (as Diana Baylor, Heathers sister and Barr’s primary patient), Joanou’s imitation of Hitchcockian thrillers expertly plays out as a torrid sexual affair between Dr. and patient as it quickly becomes unclear as to whether it is Basinger’s Heather is in need of psychological help.

Although somewhat under-performing at the box office, audiences cannot deny the Machiavellian-like characteristics of the lead character as she attempts to deceive all involved parties.

Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes in Misery (1990)

When admiration turns into obsession, Kathy Bates brilliantly embodies this fine line as she attempts to take care of famous writer Paul Sheldon (played by James Caan) after an unfortunate car accidents leaves him temporarily incapacitated.

For anyone who has seen the film, then you will know that the situation goes from bad to worse after Annie discovers Paul plans to kill off a major character in his novel leading her to cripples Paul in the most painful way imaginable (but we will leave that to the readers imagination), turning him from her ward to her prisoner, forcing him to rewrite his book to her liking.

Rob Reiner’s adaption of the gripping Stephen King story received critical acclaim for Bates performances as the psychopathic Annie Wilkes, Bates winning the 1990 Academy Award for Best Actress, making Misery the only Stephen King adaption to be an Oscar winning film.

Sharon Stone as Catherine Trammel in Basic Instinct (1992)

The role that made Sharon Stone a household name, never before has there been such contention at what was between a women’s legs. Her homicidal and sexual game of cat-and-mouse with Michael Douglas’s Detective Nick Curran is an erotic powerhouse of a film that really pushes the femme fatale characterization to its limits.

Equal parts terrifying as she is beautiful, whether or not she is erotically dancing with other women, playing black widow to unsuspecting gentlemen callers, or gripping an ice pick for dear life, she is the women who haunted our dreams at night.

Paul Verhoeven’s 1992 erotic thriller film was controversial from its outset, generating huge controversy due to its overt sexual depictions; despite this Basic Instinct was one of the most financially successful films of the 90s.

Rosamund Pike as Amy Dunne in Gone Girl (2014)

The recent film adaptation of the Gillian Flynn novel of the same name, David Fincher’s tackles in style this nail biting drama about a marriage to rival all on-screen marriages.

As the story goes, Gone Girl is the exploration the seemingly blissful marriage between Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck) and Amy Dunne (Rosamund Pike) as their marriage takes a turn for the worst after Amy’s disappears on the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary. However like most psychological thrillers all is not as it seems, as Nick becomes the main suspect in Amy’s disappearance. The resulting media pressures then begin to ask the question are the couple really who they claim to be?

To explain more would be to give away the trick of the film and so we at SFF implore you to go and watch Gone Girl for yourselves and discover why a woman scorned is a most dangerous thing!

Rachel McAdams as Regina George in Mean Girls (2005)

A classic now, who doesn’t love Rachel McAdams channeling her best b*tchface in Mark Water’s 2004 comedy classic Mean Girls.
The coming-of-age tale of finding your place in the world, explored in the toughest of microcosms known to man; the American Schooling system. New to town Cady Heron (bright eyed and fresh faced Lindsay Lohan) finds herself immersed in the world of the ‘Plastics’, the elite group of cool, but ‘mean’ girls as he slowly begins to realise how they acquired the name.
Boasting an all star cast including Amanda Seyfried, Tina Fey, Lacey Chabert, Amy Poehler and Lizzy Caplan to name a few, there is so much to love about this cult film that, more seriously, explores the damaging effects that adolescent social cliques can have on teenage girls.
If you’re a child of the 90s then you will most definitely remember this lough-out-loud comedy, and for all of those yet to experience Mean Girls in all its glorious fashion, you’re missing out of film history!
Marion Cotillard as Lady Macbeth in Macbeth (2015)

An finally to the focus of the feature we turn to Marion Cotillard role of Lady Macbeth in the soon-to-be-released Macbeth directed by Justin Kurzel (2011’s Snowtown and 2013’s the episodic dramatic collaboration The Turning). The visage of the commonly used saying “behind every great man there is a great women”, for readers who know anything about the original Shakespearian tale know that Lady Macbeth was the person who goaded Macbeth to commit regicide (the deliberate killing of a monarch or a person of royalty) in order to become queen of Scotland (SPOLIER ALERT) before suffering immense guilt and killing herself.
And if the trailer is anything to go by then audiences are in for a treat with Kurzel’s reimagining of this much loved tragedy.
Further examples of Machiavellian women in films include Cameron Diaz as Elizabeth Halsey in Bad Teacher (2011), Kerry Fox as Juliet in Shallow Grave (1994), Isabelle Fuhrman as Esther in Orphan (2009), Pat Carol as the voice of Ursula in The Little Mermaid (1989), Glen Close as Alex Forrest in Fatal Attraction (1987).