The Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, consisting of Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and The World’s End, is remarkable in its ability to invite the kind of insight that would be embarrassing to lavish upon a handful of action comedies if they weren’t so expertly made, so in and of the genres they claim to parody that they transcend the labels they’ve been given. Each movie can be treated from a number of perspectives, including their scriptwriting, aesthetics, editing, and brand of comedy, all the while raising points on such things as British identity, adulthood and maturity, and the influence of video games in pop culture. Needless to say, the supreme efforts of writer-director Edgar Wright and writer-actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have created many entry points into this highly honored trilogy. The one exploited here, however, has its roots in the trilogy’s precursor, two-season television comedy Spaced, which worked as a two-hander between Pegg’s Tim Bisley and Jessica Hynes’s Daisy Steiner. The movies to follow are all associated with a heavy male point of view, and regardless of the genre each claims to parrot, they are buddy comedies at heart. Post-Daisy, there was never a strong female voice in any movie, barring Shaun of the Dead’s Liz perhaps. With that, and with the heaps of praise regularly showered on the central trio, in mind, the idea arose to shine a light on the women who took part in the madness of the Blood and Ice Cream movies. Beginning with Spaced, this article celebrates not only the contributions of the series’ women, but also the Cornetto boys’ splendid commitment to writing well-rounded characters for them.
Nira Park – Producer (Spaced, Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World’s End)
“It’ll be anything from problems with sound, to paying off skateboarders, to actors being cold, to dialogue changes, to money, to whether we need overtime… There’s no such thing as an average day.” – From Empire
As she tells BAFTA, the producer isn’t the talent, but any self-respecting Cornetto Trilogy fan should know the heavy debt owed to Nira Park for her continued collaboration with Wright, Pegg, and Frost. Considering her position, she probably wouldn’t mind her CV being peppered with other people’s names, particularly if she’d helped raise those names to prominence in the first place. From humble origins she founded Big Talk Productions, which works heavily in television and is beginning to pump out more movies. She was onboard for Spaced and the entire Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy, and under her guidance Big Talk has produced some seriously leftfield projects, backing the likes of Joe Cornish’s genre-mashing Attack the Block and Ben Wheatley’s Sightseers. She’s shown herself to know an interesting proposition when she sees one, springboarding her collaborators onto greater things, and though her own work is expanding as well, it’s her gift for managing her collaborator’s prospects that continues to yield the most positive results. Only time will tell where her career shifts from here, but she occupies a special position in the industry now, offering a shot at the big time for new talent who can deliver exceptional entertainment. Sitcoms and low-budget horror comedies are a dime a dozen, and it takes a very special group of people who can make a classic out of each back to back. Park, for her managerial expertise and her love of the industry, deserves a tip of the hat for that alone.
Jessica Hynes (nee Stevenson) – Daisy Steiner, Amber, Series Writer (Spaced); Yvonne (Shaun of the Dead)
“That was research!”
After sitting out Hot Fuzz, one of the biggest disappointments come the cameo-filled The World’s End was Jessica Hynes’s absence, and anyone torn about it is likely to question her disappearance from the Cornetto boys’ circle. More recently it’s been reported that she doubts she could’ve achieved her male costars’ success, but it’s only after revealing that she’s more like Spaced‘s Daisy Steiner (at least a less starry-eyed Daisy Steiner) than some fans would like to believe. She continues to crop up in British productions, both acting and writing, and she insists that she’s happy with where she is. Bad blood not being the case, perhaps it’s best that Hynes’s greatest role predates the trilogy while remaining integral to its creation in the first place. Her one cameo in all three movies is a callback to her scatterbrained wannabe writer Daisy, a role she poured herself into as much as Pegg and Wright poured themselves into their work. Critical to the success of Spaced is the level of control its creators retained, and Hynes as co-writer and co-lead puts herself onscreen more than anyone listed here. She and Pegg are both given equal space to carve out their own characters, and in contrast to his brooding Tim her Daisy is an idealist prone to rambling speeches and avoiding work. Her storylines are typically more banal than Tim’s – he embarks on a drug-fuelled Resident Evil marathon, she interviews for a job; he faces his arch nemesis, she adopts a dog; he battles in a robot wars fight club, she does dishes – but every subplot is seen through the same surreal filter, and both writers end up covering complementary ground: Pegg acting out fantasies through everyday hobbies, Hynes attaching significance to the most tedious of responsibilities. With Tim gainfully employed and channeling his frustrations into other pursuits, Daisy is the one attacking the frustrations of post-college life head-on, struggling to impress interviewers, collect unemployment, and cope with shitty temp jobs. She even suffers the first pangs of unrequited love that would have turned Tim and Daisy into one of the best will-they-won’t-they relationships of all time if they weren’t already perfect the way they were. If anything her return as Yvonne in Shaun of the Dead is more bittersweet than the finale of Spaced. Her casting as Shaun’s old friend with whom he’s lost touch proposes a future for Tim and Daisy that no one wants to believe, one that sadly already happened between the real Pegg and Hynes: they outgrow one another and go their separate ways. Yvonne’s signature line also takes on a melancholy light in this new post-Spaced age, an age in which Wright, Pegg, and Frost have exploded, but Hynes maintains a low profile. At least someone made it.
Julia Deakin – Marsha Klein (Spaced); Yvonne’s Mum (Shaun of the Dead); Mary Porter (Hot Fuzz); B&B Landlady (The World’s End)
“I told him it was me or the dog. And he chose the dog… Bitch.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Julia Deakin is the connective tissue of the entire series save for the boys and an unseen Park. Surprisingly not just because her roles beyond Spaced are little more than cameos, but because she is the resident good sport, admitting she was out of touch with many of the jokes in Spaced but went along with them anyway. Nothing stops her from fully committing to the role of proprietor Marsha Klein, a sozzled, foul-mouthed divorcee who inspires dread in her tenants not by demanding the rent but by being so remarkably pathetic. Her sorry state of affairs symbolizes the tenants’ fear of aging, never more so than when a simple declaration of affection gives Daisy a horrifying vision of her future if she doesn’t buckle down and work (“I hope you never leave, never leeeave, never leeeaaave….”). Pegg and Hynes do her the credit of possessing some wits – whether she’s saving Daisy from drug trafficking charges or leveraging her power over Brian to spark his creativity – and of having a fully fleshed backstory (“Why do you think I got such ace pins?”). Deakin takes to the part with gusto, and when Marsha learns Tim and Daisy’s secret her stricken reaction is more touching than any of Pegg’s collected maudlin monologues. The ensuing crisis galvanizes the bunch into launching one final mission, proving that Marsha is just as indispensable to the ensemble as anyone else. For those who grew to love her over two seasons, it’s a treat to see Deakin pop up in ever movie that comes after, particularly in Hot Fuzz as fifty-three year-old bar owner Mary Porter. She’s the first of many older actors to trust her young costars’ instincts, and for that loyalty The World’s End sees her given a properly karmic farewell: in her last scene in her last role, she responds to Gary King’s ludicrously well-prepared litany of debauchery with a vacant stare to end all vacant stares.
Katy Carmichael – Twist Morgan (Spaced)
“Is Jabba the princess?”
“Sweet and stupid, or an evil genius” is how Tim describes Twist in series two’s opening voiceover, her smile souring into a glower as he speaks the words. Katy Carmichael isn’t asked to do much more than play a self-centered brat, even though she’s the only twenty-something on the show seemingly without any complaints about life (except Tyres, of course). It’s the kind of role that grows tiresome fast, but in Pegg and Hynes’s hands her aloofness is overcome, and she’s given more shading and kept deep in the fold. Even her offscreen influence births one of the greatest scenes of the show when one of her “moods” prompts Brian to contemplate the female mystique, prompting Tim and Mike to demonstrate the phenomenon of shared male telepathy, prompting Daisy to mow down a gang with an invisible M-60 in an alley in Camden. Tim may have trouble reading her, but as she insists to Brian, she’s “a whole, with a ‘W’,” and it’s about that time in the show that she stops taking cheap shots at everyone else. Carmichael doesn’t shy away from the fluctuations in her characterization, taking advantage of the few moments when she wants to be taken seriously while regularly embracing the arbitrary physical comedy of skittering to the dog shelter or joining a shoulder massage train at a rave. Notably, Twist is the only character not given any closure when the show comes to an end. A slow pan that mirrors the “evil genius” intro above reveals her disillusioned and motionless, surrounded by dancers at a club, a final reminder of the sensitive soul buried beneath her vapid exterior.
Kate Ashfield – Liz (Shaun of the Dead)
“Hellooo it’s me.” “Bye! Bye! Bye!”
Kate Ashfield is in an uphill struggle from the moment Shaun of the Dead begins. Her Liz is introduced pleading for boyfriend Shaun to commit more fully to their relationship, going so far as to invoke the old “I want you to want to” line to describe, well, what she wants. The scene is a great example of Pegg and Wright’s storytelling economy, introducing five main players and the movie’s most prominent location at once, but the downside, for Ashfield anyway, is that Liz doesn’t get to make a good first impression. Any further hint of shrewishness is quickly broken down, albeit after an angry tirade over a forgotten anniversary, when she quietly relates her real fear, that she’ll grow old “drinking [herself] to death and wondering what the hell happened.” Her statement is the most raw evocation of the anxiety at the heart of the movie. From the opening smash cut to a shell shocked Shaun to its gaunt, robotic Londoners, Shaun is awash with the notion that we’re already zombified, and Liz refuses to be a part of it. It isn’t a stretch to say she shares the point of view of Shaun’s prickish roommate Pete. Shaun’s Sharpee-scrawled manifesto is comprised of orders from his supposedly biggest antagonists: Pete ordering him to sort his life out, stepfather Phil ordering him to visit his mum, and right in the middle, provoked by Liz dumping him, his own order to get her back. In a way, all of them want what’s best for Shaun. Pegg and Wright astutely observe how one can confuse friends from enemies, and the complications introduced by love and loyalty, putting Liz in the position of offering Shaun a reasonable path to adulthood, away from the listlessness of friend Ed but also away from the condescension of ‘grown-up’ Pete, who only offers another kind of zombiehood. Owing to the universality of the fear of growing up, Ashfield effortlessly conveys the itchiness to experience more, transforming Liz from damsel in distress into a very real adult who’s determined to take responsibility for her life.
Penelope Wilton – Barbara (Shaun of the Dead)
“Sorry, dear. I was miles away.”
The quirky parent is a trope that crops up a lot in rom coms, where the potential for offspring-embarrassing antics increases in direct proportion to said offspring’s estrangement from their parents. Shaun of the Dead not only shies away, but obliterates, the trope during the first scene when Shaun insists he loves his mum after Liz complains they’ve never met. When Penelope Wilton’s Barbara is introduced, she couldn’t be more sweet or less offensive, lobbing the cause of the fissure in their relationship back into Shaun’s court. Her suburban domesticity contrasts the steeped melodrama of her son’s relationship with his stepfather, casting a ridiculous light on Shaun’s Hamletian desire to dismiss Philip for good, a wish that is almost granted by the zombie apocalypse. Wright and Pegg may focus exclusively on the travails of early adulthood, but they are careful not to caricature Barbara, or Philip for that matter, as either cautionary tales or perfect role models to the following generation. Credit extends as much to Bill Nighy as it does Wilton, but for the purpose of the article Wilton plays the role as a fully formed person, and her gentle reprimand of “no fighting, you two” conveys the history of a woman who thought she was done weathering her son’s adolescence, and hopes to let bygones be bygones. Had she been any less, her loss wouldn’t have been so painful, the only moment of sadness from which Shaun truly never bounces back, and which basically spells out the failure of a plan that was too immature to have worked in the first place.
Lucy Davis – Dianne (Shaun of the Dead)
“They definitely want to come innnn…”
Introduced as Liz’s slightly ditzy best pal, Lucy Davis’s Dianne could easily be pegged as the Twist of Shaun of the Dead. It isn’t until later that she’s revealed to be its most tragic character. Stuck in a loveless relationship and unsuccessful in her career, she suffers the worst of Shaun’s issues, exacerbated by the fact that her significant other is a pompous ass (or twat) who pines for her best friend. Shaun is calmer than the movies that followed, but if you were to pinpoint one moment where Wright uncharacteristically slackens the pace, it’s the extended beat he reserves for her and boyfriend David after David taunts Shaun for failing to win back Liz. Her wordless reaction to David’s smug denial of jealousy speaks volumes about her daily agony, and later she admits she’s accepted the situation, suggesting that without the intervening zombie outbreak she would’ve continued to do so. Amid the bluster of Shaun going ’round Mum’s, getting Liz back, and sorting out his life, Dianne is the face of quiet surrender, making the most of things the way they are, something Shaun failed to do with stepfather Phil. For all her problems, she acquits herself well in the end, using her acting skills to lead the final push to The Winchester and improvising weapons out of throwing darts and a human leg. Davis may not be accustomed to the manic pace of the creators of Spaced, but with practice from The Office she injects the comedy with some real pathos, playing so well to Wright’s speed that she earns her small moments of heartbreak.
Olivia Colman – PC Doris Thatcher (Hot Fuzz)
“Nothing like a bit o’ girl on girl!”
Hot Fuzz is a casting coup in every way, rallying a score of contemporary comedic stars and veteran stage and screen actors, in addition to some wildly unexpected cameos. If there’s one thing this ultimate parody of American action movies dispenses with, it’s the rote romantic subplot, subsumed as it is by Pegg and Frost’s characters’ friendship to elevate the homoerotic subtext. Of course that means there’s no obvious spot for a female lead (stereotypical American action movie, mind), which boosts Olivia Colman’s Police Constable Doris Thatcher into the spotlight. Colman plays the role with bright-eyed immaturity, delivering one-liners with the enthusiasm of a toddler who’s learned how to get a laugh. In a way, Doris is confirmation of Nicholas Angel’s worst fears, showing the fairer sex of the Sandford Police Department to be as capable of lascivious innuendo and unprofessionalism as her male peers. Within seconds of meeting she makes a pass at him, and from there on cracks inappropriate jokes at murder scenes and dons a pair of fake breasts for Danny Butterman’s birthday, all the while remaining as allergic to work as her fellow officers. If anything she’s worse, her constant nattering an even greater threat to productivity and political correctness than the incompetent flatfoots that surround her. An argument could be made that she’s drawing attention to herself in all the wrong ways to compensate for her minority status, but one look at Colman’s face as she fires a submachine gun at two blokes and a fuckload of cutlery and it’s clear that she’s just one of the guys.
Rosamund Pike – Sam Chamberlain (The World’s End)
“Yeah, we’ll always have the disableds.”
Rosamund Pike easily wins as the most widely recognized woman prior to her role in a Three Flavours Cornetto movie. Both her casting and her role are symptomatic of the oversized scale of The World’s End, an issue that also contributed to its sense of forced archness and hyperawareness, and she isn’t given much to do besides act distressed. Harshness aside, Pike demonstrates her big screen dependability with what amounts to a traditional role as the love interest for both Simon Pegg and Paddy Considine. Most importantly she maintains an easy rapport with her male costars, transitioning seamlessly from cheerfulness to polite geniality to mortification as she juggles her brother’s four childhood friends and their varying feelings towards her. Still, she isn’t given much to do, missing out on Gary King’s first act recruiting mission and fending of an incorrigibly horny King before the smashy smashy egg men attack. At least she can be comforted that her onscreen sibling played by Martin Freeman is just as one-note as she is, to the extent that no one realizes he’s been bodysnatched until way after the fact. Pike is a welcome addition to Wright’s most mainstream effort (this coming from a writer relieved to see him rid of Ant-Man), signaling not only Wright’s ascent up the directorial ladder, but also her continued interest in pursuing diverse projects that demand more from her than most standard blockbuster fare.
Spot of bother up at Elroy Farm…
To maintain focus, this list excludes a number of women in supporting roles, including Lucy Akhurst (Sophie, Spaced), Lucy Punch (Eve Draper, Hot Fuzz), Billie Whitelaw (Joyce Cooper, Hot Fuzz), Alice Lowe (Tina, Hot Fuzz; Young Lady, The World’s End), and Cate Blanchett (Janine, Hot Fuzz). Deliberately missing are any “non-canon” films, like Pegg and Frost’s ho-hum, decidedly non-classic Paul and Wright’s electric Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (both notably produced by Park). Thus such actresses as Kristen Wiig, Jane Lynch, Sigourney Weaver, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Alison Pill, Ellen Wong, and Anna Kendrick are not covered here.