Ashes to Ashes episode 1

What representations of gender are constructed by the extract through the use of: Mise en scene / Editing / Use of camera / And sound             

In this extract clear contrasts are seen in the representation of males and females in the two different eras: 2007 and 1981.

This scene opens in 2007 with a hostage situation; a woman is being held by a desperate man who wishes to speak to DI Alex Drake who is first seen in her element; controlled, in charge,
dressed in masculine jacket open necked blouse and trousers, with her hair tucked behind her ears. She is a plain clothes officer who specialises in the psychological profiling of criminals. She is seen in contrast with the uniformed officers in flak jackets crouching on tops of near by buildings seen in long shots with steadicam work which add to the tension as we feel like we are there in the crowd. She has nothing in her hands and, shown in a mid shot to reduce her threat level, approaches calmly, talking reassuringly to the gunman. He, again by contrast, is shown in a midshot almost as anxious as his terrified female hostage. He is backed up against the railings of the Thames walkway waving his gun around to show his desperation and that he is effectively backed into a corner. The action and camera angles are complemented by the diegetic sounds of a helicopter and police siren and overhear the radio traffic between the SWAT team to increase the level of tension.

In a long shot we are shown him pushing his hostage away and demanding Alex approach, only to be thwarted by Molly, Alex’s 9 year old daughter who suddenly rushes through a gap in the barricade towards her mother only to be grabbed in her turn by the gunman. Here the swift jump cuts and montage of point of view and tracking shots, as we see Alex lose her cool, increase the tension. Now Alex is seen in a series of mid shots
screeching and whirling around with her arms outstretched as she seeks to protect the gunman and her daughter as she demands the snipers hold their fire; her vulnerability and weakness are exposed. She is no longer in control of the situation or her emotions. The gunman is now seen in a long shot as if to keep the police at arms length and to show his threat level. This is a man whose masculinity is threatened by women who disempowers them by using them to get what he wants.

The overall representations of gender portray males as either using violence or having the capacity (guns) to use violence to resolve their issues. Women by contrast are either directly the victim as in the case of the initial hostage and Mollie and later Alex when her own daughter has been taken or as powerful but whose power is fleeting and possibly not real as Alex loses any power which she thought she had at the start of the extract.

Section two is set in 1981 and DI Drake is thrown back in time. She comes to consciousness dressed as a prostitute. The location is a derelict urban industrial area which, coupled with her utter confusion, enhances her vulnerability. She realises her situation as the camera gives us a high angle shot of her as she catches sight of her reflection in a puddle and then pans up her body from her red shoes via black lace-topped stay ups to a skimpy low-necked red dress, fake diamond necklace and earrings and the ubiquitous fur coat! Her expression is caught on camera in a close up of her shock and horror. Too quickly for her to react she is grabbed by the criminal of the moment who by the time the police arrive has her by the throat. This man is dressed in a business suit and cravat conveying the impression of his superior social status and creating an interesting contrast with the earlier hostage taker who was unkempt, with lanky unwashed hair and an air of desperation. This man has arrogance and money on his side – a winning combination he thinks. Another close up of her face reveals her complete incomprehension. She is in a situation she has no idea how to deal with.

Enter Gene Hunt and team in a wonderfully stylised MTV style montage of tracking shots of the red Audi Quattro screaming to the rescue like the old cavalry in a cloud of dust accompanied by a 1980s rock track and diegetic tyre screeches;
very masculine entrance. In a long shot from between and behind Alex’s legs in silhouette, we see the car door open then the camera tilts down to show feet exiting the car dressed in a pair of animal skin boots with heels (very 80s!) and up to a low angle of Gene Hunt dressed in a suit with a long coat and toting a gun. (Reminiscent of the Baz Luhrmann scene where Tybalt gets out of his car at the gas station the intertextuality immediately alerts the viewer as to his power!) (or like a classic Western shot of the bad guy’s heels with very Western style music) Gene Hunt represents the law and his power and status are confirmed by the low angle mid shot. As he threatens the man holding Alex Drake by calling himself a ‘bastard’ he doesn’t want to get on the wrong side of a point of view shot shows him looking Alex down and up and drawing the logical conclusion about what she is. His two side kicks now get out of the car and, standing the far side, we see them in a mid two shot, slicked back hair, sunglasses on and holding their guns
authoritatively in both hands across the roof.

Suddenly Alex is back in an arena with which she is familiar; a hostage situation. Using shot reverse shots we see her talking to her captor in a mid two shot, with reassuring, confident, psychological jargon, he recognises the truth in what she is saying and capitulates, juxtaposed with a midshot which captures the faces of the other two officers as they turn from the scene in front of them to each other with a shrug of mutual lack of understanding and a comment ‘is it me or are the toms getting more intelligent?’

Now taking the business man into custody Carling is seen in a mid shot smashing the prisoner’s face into the side of the car in a casually violent act.

Finally Alex makes the link; she knows who is standing in front of her. A series of jump cuts to each in turn as she names them showing them in a low angle mid shot and back to her face in high angle close up reveal her growing amazement. The camera finishes with a low angle close up of Gene’s face as he appreciates his fame and a tracking dolly shot as he and we watch her slump to the ground in a faint – no doubt reinforcing all their prejudices about women! It is the men with the power and status in this era; women have their place and this isn’t it.

The two extracts from the two different time zones show very clearly that the representations of gender have changed. In 1981 men were aggressive, insensitive, sexist and arrogant gun toting thugs; whereas by 2007 the sexes are more equal though DI Alex Drake’s role is arguably a more feminine one – talking to hostage takers while the men still have the guns – at least her expertise is recognised with a senior rank.


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