Agent Carter

· review ·

We don’t subscribe to any cable or satellite TV channels (though we do have a LoveFilm subscription for films on DVD1), as we generally find that there’s more than enough material that we want to watch on the terrestrial TV channels. Just occasionally, however, a series that we want to watch is shown on a channel that we don’t have access to, and we buy the series on iTunes. I’ve done this for the two series of Agent Carter, and I am hooked.

If you haven’t heard of Agent Carter, it’s a kind of spin-off series in the Marvel Universe, set in late 1940s America. The eponymous heroine is Agent Peggy Carter, who was romantically and professionally involved with Steve Rogers (Captain America) until he was presumed dead after an aircraft crash. Peggy works for an organisation called the Strategic Scientific Reserve (SSR), but is regarded by most of the other agents as a glorified secretary or tea girl, despite the fact that she is prodigiously intelligent and a talented agent. As a result, she sometimes takes her own initiative and goes somewhat ‘off piste’ in investigations, trying to retrieve potentially destructive technologies and weapons that have fallen into enemy hands. When Howard Stark (father of Iron Man Tony Stark) gets involved in one such investigation, he offers Peggy the services of his butler, Edwin Jarvis (inspiration for Tony Stark’s AI J.A.R.V.I.S.). The show is difficult to categorise, but it is part secret agent noir-ish drama, with a touch of superhero technology thrown in.

The main reason I love this show is because of Peggy herself (played wonderfully by Hayley Atwell). I’ve been waiting years for a series in this kind of genre with a strong, intelligent, independent female lead character like Peggy. She is fiercely intelligent, courageous, principled, funny, very British, and swears like a docker at moments of stress. She also cheerfully exploits the fact that others underestimate her because of her gender, and uses that to give her the freedom to do things her own way. She also has a delightful partnership with Jarvis (also British, and played by James D’Arcy). Unusually, he is her sidekick, there not to provide muscle (she manages very well with the fighting on her own for the most part, thank you very much), but to smoothly materialise in a Jeeves-ish manner at moments of need, and provide her with an exit or an alibi. Jarvis is rather risk averse and terrible at lying, but he is sweetly excited by the adventures that Peggy takes him on. The two of them have some great dialogue, reminiscent of vintage screwball comedies featuring the likes of Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, and it all fizzes along very enjoyably.

One of the things I like so much about Peggy Carter’s character is that she is so confident in her own strength and competence that it doesn’t bother her whether her talents are publicly acknowledged or not. She has a great speech near the end of the first series in which she says that she doesn’t care if she doesn’t get the recognition she deserves: she knows what she has achieved and is proud of it, and that’s all that matters. At the same time, she is strong and fearless about standing up for others’ rights. In the second series, she begins to develop a relationship with an African-American scientist called Dr Jason Wilkes. When a guy in a diner refuses to give them change because Jason is black, she is furious on his behalf. Jason tells her that it’s no big deal — he’s used to it as it happens to him all the time, and anyway what is she going to do: punch the whole of LA on his behalf? In response she mutters, “Why not, I could do with a hobby…”

The other reason I love the series so much is an odd one, and something I would never have anticipated being drawn to a few years ago. Since I started sewing, I’ve really enjoyed watching period dramas and scrutinising the details of the costumes. There are often interesting silhouettes or unusual shapes, seamlines or shaping that you don’t see much in modern clothes. I particularly like the clothes of the 1940s and 1950s (and to some extent, the early 1960s), as the shapes are those that happen to suit me. Peggy Carter wears some fantastic outfits, and I’ve made more than one sketch of a suit or dress that particularly caught my fancy, with the intention of drafting something similar for myself, but modernised so that it is not obviously period costume. Entertainment and sewing inspiration: I’m not sure I could ask much more from a TV show.

  1. I know — how quaint! ↩︎