Essays · Movies

Anatomy of a Spinster: 6 Species of Cinematic Old Maids

Each one greater and more terrible than the last.
Cinematic Spinsters
By  · Published on May 11th, 2017

The Independent Sleuth

Top: (L) Dame May Whitty as Miss Froy; (R) Julia McKenzie as Miss Marple—Bottom: Essie Davis as Miss Fisher.

Miss Froy —The Lady Vanishes (1938)

The Lady Vanishes concerns (shockingly) the disappearance of the dawdling and adorably knit-happy Miss Froy. Naturally, as is wont with Hitchcock, the other shoe drops, and the toodling, elderly governess turns out to be a British secret agent embroiled in an international conspiracy because fuck you of course she is.

Miss Marple — Agatha Christie’s Marple (1961-ad Infinitum)

Hailing from St. Mary Mead, amateur consulting detective Miss Marple stumbles upon and solves murders with alarming (suspicious?) frequency. Constantly underestimated, she uses shrewd intelligence and an impeccable memory to tell doubters to suck it. Also “bumbling around the English countryside solving murder-deaths” is one hell of an old maid retirement plan.

Miss Fisher — Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012–15)

Phryne Fisher is an Australian aristocrat, private detective, flapper, and card-carrying single lady. Her’s is a sexual agency as rich and liberated as her wardrobe (which has boas and pants…so…). Davis says it best: “[Phryne] has no dependence upon men, just loves them.”

The Murderously-Inclined

Top: (L) Bette Davis as Charlotte Hollis; (R) Ida Lupino as Ellen Creed — Bottom: Josephine Hull and Jean Adair as Abby and Martha Brewster.

Charlotte Hollis — Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

Rich, reclusive, and shrouded in mystery, Charlotte’s priorities include wandering her estate in pajamas and shooting her rifle at the Highway Commission trying to bulldoze her mansion. Whether or not they’re true, the rumors that she decapitated her former lover only serve to bolster her brand. After all, it’s a spinster milestone to have local children assume your house is haunted.

Ellen Creed — Ladies in Retirement (1941)

Ellen is in want of one thing and one thing only: a hostile moorland hovel to call her own. Not only does Ellen realize her dream of living contentedly as an immaculately groomed swamp witch, but she achieves the spinster equivalent of walking off into the sunset: donning a cape and sauntering through the fog, alone at last.

Abby and Martha Brewster — Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

When Mortimer decides to get married he pays a visit to his aunts, who have developed a “very bad habit,” of offing sad old bachelors with arsenic, strychnine, and “just a pinch of cyanide.” While not marrying men doesn’t 100/100 equate to killing them, the aunts’ apparent ladylikeness and bachelor-centric bloodlust is a delicious concoction.

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Meg Shields is the humble farm boy of your dreams and a senior contributor at Film School Rejects. She currently runs three columns at FSR: The Queue, How'd They Do That?, and Horrorscope. She is also a curator for One Perfect Shot and a freelance writer for hire. Meg can be found screaming about John Boorman's 'Excalibur' on Twitter here: @TheWorstNun. (She/Her).