The Female Investigator as Site of Conflicting Values in French Television Series:

Iron Fist in Velvet Glove Redux?


Jean Anderson

Victoria University of Wellington


A recurrent phenomenon in television crime series from a number of countries, featuring female lead detectives, is the conflict between so-called feminine characteristics and behaviours and the qualities required of those who enforce the law. This conflict between personal and professional roles is not limited to women, of course. Television crime dramas repeatedly represent criminal investigation, particularly in the case of homicide, as a professional obligation which intrudes on the investigators’ private lives. It is, therefore, not unusual for male detectives to suffer from divided loyalties (professional versus personal life): however this division seems particularly acute in the case of women. Male detectives may have drinking or gambling problems, succumb to corruption, or struggle to maintain marital relationships, but it is rare for them to have issues with childcare (or their personal appearance) whereas these are arguably almost commonplace for female characters who seem to be more closely tied to their domestic and, more broadly, gender roles, both practically and affectively.

As well as dealing with the personal/professional dichotomy, women investigators must find their footing within an often conflictual internal dynamics. “Cop culture” is described by police researcher Robert Reiner, in his much cited 1985 study which discusses both real life and fiction, as characterised by seven fundamental values.[1] These are listed as: mission-action-cynicism-pessimism, a cycling through positive and negative energies; suspicion; isolation-solidarity; conservatism; machismo; racial prejudice and finally pragmatism. While women can obviously share many of these attitudes, their assumption of machismo would seem problematic. Heidensohn and Brown (2012, p. 132) note that real-life sexism can be even more intense than the examples seen on screen. Given that female police officers might have difficulty in identifying with and relating to the masculinist and sometimes misogynistic values of their profession, how do television crime series depict this dilemma?

In addition to the double bind requirement to position themselves both inside (as police officers) and outside (as women) their occupational codes of behaviour, a range of broader social values and gender role expectations may come into play. As Sellier puts it, where men are thought to command logic, daring, transgression and authority, all vital to successful detective work and the upholding of the law, women are credited with greater affective powers – they are motherly, empathetic, instinctual and submissive (2004, p. 265). Are these also qualities that are of value in the pursuit of criminals, and do televised crime series represent them as strengths, or are they instead, by virtue of their ‘femininity’, associated with weakness? It is difficult here not to think of the classic formulation of the ‘iron hand in [a] velvet glove’ repeatedly used in reference to policing,[2] but also chosen by Crosland (1976) to refer to subversive French women writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, associating an apparently “soft touch” with an iron determination. Beneath the gently “feminine” surface behaviours, are female investigators playing a double game?

Given these potential conflicts, it would not be too surprising if televised women detectives were shown as inhibited by obstacles to a sense of professional objectivity, or alternatively, as failing in their personal lives. While our focus will be on French televised series, it is useful to give some initial consideration to the trends shown in other national productions, particularly since there are increasing numbers of “copy-cat” productions crossing national borders.[3] In some cases, the women investigators appear to feel responsibility toward the victim, potentially the case with Sarah Lund (Fobrydelsen / The Killing) who despite having a partner at work and (initially) at home, functions mainly as a loner, neglecting personal and/or family responsibilities in her relentless pursuit of the killer. Gerard Gilbert sums this up as Lund’s refusal to assume many of the usual feminine characteristics such as care of the self and family (see Turnbull, 2014, p. 180). In other words, Lund – like Saga Norén after her (Broen / Brøn, The Bridge[4]) – places her professional responsibilities first, even if this means a degree of personal isolation. Like Lisbeth Salander of the Millennium trilogy, these investigators may perhaps be placed on the autism spectrum in terms of their emotional disconnect. This coolness is not only a “Nordic Noir” trait, however. British detective series Vera and the Canadian King are anchored by two very different female leads (one strikingly frumpy, the other characterised by glamour) who share a distinctly ambivalent attitude toward children and motherhood. In other words, to be successful detectives, women must apparently reject their personal attachments, and even elements of their “femininity”,[5] because these will get in the way of the objective, logical pursuit of the perpetrator.   

One of the most blatant examples of this conflict can be found in series one of the British drama Broadchurch (2013), in which the perpetrator of the crime is revealed to be the husband of the female detective, Ellie Miller. When the victim’s mother asks Miller what is arguably the core question of all crime dramas, “How could you not know?”, what is evoked is not merely the idea that the truth should have been obvious, had the detective not been caught up in her personal life as wife and mother. Rather, reference is also being made to a deep network of traditional gender roles and supposedly “natural” behaviour. Either the investigator-wife did know, and covered up, or her instinctively empathetic nature, a female characteristic potentially useful in detection, was suppressed by her personal allegiances. Butler’s gender performance thesis notwithstanding, television crime dramas are still, by and large, essentialist in their approach. A few well-known series – like Broadchurch – do explore the personal/professional dichotomy to some extent, as we have seen, but even this exploration is reliant on the existence of the dichotomy as its foundation. It is no exaggeration, then, to say that the notion of investigation and police work as “unsuitable jobs” for women remains firmly in place in the popular imagination, and that there is widespread focus on the conflicts that can arise.

How, in fact, can femininity be reconciled with (en)force(ment)? How do “typical” female gender behaviours (nurture, seduction, subordination) fit within the framework of law enforcement? What does it “mean” when a female police officer dresses in tight skirts and stilettos, or conversely, in t-shirts, sweaters and leather trousers (à la Sarah Lund or Saga Norén)? How do female sexuality and/or maternity sit alongside the macho ethos of many television crime series? Considering gender as a performance (Butler, 1990), complexified here by the representational layering of script, costume and acting, I shall now explore some of the ways in which French televised series negotiate and/or exploit what seems to be a fundamental conflict. By selecting examples from the 1970s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s and discussing them separately, I hope to show how these television series reflect (and arguably inflect) a certain evolution in depictions of women policing over the last 40 years.

It should come as no surprise that a number of French television series have explored – or exploited – this dichotomy of personal vs professional in the lives of women investigators: the present study looks at a selection of these, going back to the 6-episode series Madame le juge (starring Simone Signoret, 1978, A2), the long-running Julie Lescaut (Véronique Genest, 1992-2014, TF1) and Une femme d’honneur (Corinne Touzet, 1996-2008, TF1), as well as four more recent series, Femmes de loi (Natacha Amal and Ingrid Chauvin, 2000-2009, TF1), Elodie Bradford (Armelle Deutsch, 2004-2007, M6), Engrenages (2005-2015, Caroline Proust, Canal+), and Candice Renoir (Cécile Bois, 2013-2015, FR2).[6] This selection covers a period of social change in women’s lives (1970s to 2010s), which is reflected in a variety of ways, but in each case there are notable plot and character developments bringing a similar underlying role conflict into focus.

A number of previous studies have tackled the question with regard to French series originating before the new millennium. According to Sellier, there is preponderantly a traditional division of gender roles: “men are given authority, daring and transgression: women are marked by mothering, empathy, but also obedience to the law […] and the importance of emotions” (2004, p. 265).[7] Her discussion of a number of long-running series, including Une femme d’honneur [A Woman of Honour] and Julie Lescaut, leads Sellier to conclude that they both reinforce traditional gender roles and depict professional women as (desexualised) mothers, while presenting a range of sexualised female secondary characters: “The recurring heroines in police series are part of a lineage that hammers home the dichotomy between good, motherly femininity and bad sexualised femininity” (2004, p. 269). These “good” investigators are somewhat ascetic: although they may be carefully groomed and attractive, their roles as mothers are not written to include a sexual life, and they are usually widowed, divorced or otherwise solitary.[8] It would seem from these instances that detecting and womanliness are incompatible, or at least that what is considered “naturally” female must be stripped away to achieve investigative success.

To varying degrees, all the French series under consideration here play with this idea, some to exploit and others to negate what has been defined as “femininity”.

Madame le juge (1978)

 This was the first televised série policière to feature a number of stars, from Simone Signoret (in the lead role as the widowed Elisabeth Massot) to script writers including Alphonse Boudard, Mariette Condroyer and Patrick Modiano, with episodes directed by Nadine Trintignant and Claude Chabrol.[9] Massot is an investigating magistrate (“juge d’instruction”) who is included here because she often oversteps the usual limits of her legal role to conduct inquiries herself. The conflict in her life arises principally from her difficult relationship with her son, a hippy-ish musician who refuses to undertake “serious” studies with a view to preparing for a “proper” career. In addition to this domestic tension, however, as Hayward points out, the Chabrol-directed episode 5 (Deux et deux font quatre) tends to undermine Massot’s professionalism as she is seduced by the perpetrator of a murder[10] while still struggling with what Hayward terms her “motherhood crisis” (2004, p. 233). Other episodes, such as the Condroyer-authored Le Feu or the Trintignant-directed Un innocent, give more emphasis to the judge’s investigations, but repeat brief clashes between mother and son.

For Sellier and Hayward, at least, second wave feminism had not swept all before it in 1978, even though, as Karamanoukian highlights, the Judge at least looks professional, neither “motherly nor seductive, and her appearance shows no visible signs of femininity” (Karamanoukian, 2009, p. 149), something which is arguably underlined by her wearing pantsuits (made increasingly popular by Courrèges in the late 1960s). Her strength as an individual is nevertheless undermined by the conflicts in her personal life. While audiences of the time might well have sympathised with Massot’s struggle to get her shiftless son to find a “real job” (and get his hair cut), her failures as a mother, and as a woman, are writ large and cannot but point to a vulnerability on her part. To all intents and purposes, Massot is an illustration of the ways in which being female is incompatible with the responsibilities of professional investigation.

 Julie Lescaut and Une femme d’honneur (the 1990s)

Although both leads in these two extremely popular series are solo mothers who encounter occasional problems with their offspring, by and large they are successful in combining careers and personal lives.

Hong-Mercier’s (2004) attempt at a feminist reading of French series from 1970 onward focuses on Julie Lescaut (which regularly achieved audience ratings of over 40%), and points out that while the divorcée heroine is indeed a woman in command, many of her cases involve defending families, and her own family life features frequently as an illustration of a mother’s devotion to her two daughters. In Une femme d’honneur, Isabelle Florent (Corinne Touzet), a divorcée with one child, constantly encounters difficulties in the clash between professional and maternal obligations: her young son must occasionally be rescued when he strays from the legal straight and narrow. When in 2005 the young actor who played the son left the show, he was replaced by an adopted daughter for the remaining two seasons. Arguably, this substitution was essential to continue the emphasis on mothering. 

Moine and Sellier reiterate this focus on motherhood in both series, stating: “the feminisation of the hero is accompanied by a reaffirmation of the traditional values associated with femininity: compassion, generosity, devotion, a willingness to listen, but also respect for the law” (2009, p. 176). In addition, the lead characters’ condition as mothers is signalled anew with every episode, while their sexual life is next to non-existent (2009, p. 177). On duty, Florent wears the required gendarme’s uniform but with flatteringly-cut trousers, while Lescaut tends toward practical trousers and leather jacket: both are well-groomed and discreetly made up. Off-duty, they dress conservatively, often preferring trousers. What we are seeing here, according to Moine and Sellier, are attempts to show that, despite some difficulties and in line with feminist projects of the time, it is possible to manage career and motherhood, although these are still represented as being in conflict.

Of note, however, is the conclusion to the final episode of Julie Lescaut (2014): after 22 seasons, the heroine is awarded an important honour (Chevalier dans la Légion d’Honneur) and at the same time decides to retire. Although she speaks of her career as the best years of her life, she also deeply (and tearfully) regrets not having spent more time with her family, a defect for which she now plans to compensate. The closing scenes do indeed show her surrounded by her children and their offspring, clearly enjoying the role of grandmother. Such a conclusion underlines in no uncertain terms the persistent idea that motherhood and family are vital.

While this tendency to focus on the personal has been seen as typical of the 1990s and Moine and Sellier (2009, p. 172) claim that the “ensemble” format initially imported from the United States, where an investigative team, or substitute family, has squeezed the private lives of individuals off the screen, it is clear that for Une femme d’honneur as well as Julie Lescaut the personal/professional conflict continued well into the new millennium. The final episode of the former also features the heroine in a moment of regret for all the years spent focussing on her work, to the detriment of her private life – moments before she begins an affair with her superior officer.

Clearly not all séries policières which focus on lead female investigators have solved the conflicts of femininity so prominent in the last decades of the 20th century.

Femmes de loi (the new millennium)

If we set aside early crime series (such as Decoy: Policewoman, USA, 1957-58) in which the female detective is essentially a “honey-trap”, the classic example of a television series format accommodating divergent notions of the feminine is probably the American Cagney and Lacey (1982-88). As is well-known, the show featured a married woman, Mary Beth Lacey, whose husband spent a great deal of time looking after the household and their two children: Lacey’s partner Christine Cagney was single, fashion conscious and more than a little flirtatious. By splitting these two aspects of the female stereotype, the show enabled not just the co-existence of both elements, but a dialectical interplay between the two characters, both of whom, however, remained firmly feminist, backing each other on issues of sexism arising in the workplace (such as the exclusion of women from the precinct baseball team).    

Femmes de loi [Women of the law] follows this splitting formula in featuring one single and one (divorced) married woman (a model also followed, more recently, by the UK series Scott and Bailey): it also emphasises the differences between the two characters: the single woman (police officer) is casually dressed, carries (and readily pulls) a gun, is impulsive and has intense but not entirely successful emotional involvements, whereas the (formerly) married woman, an investigating magistrate, struggles with childcare arrangements, dresses conservatively and is – at least initially – reserved and focused on formal procedures. As the series progresses, she works increasingly closely with the policewoman, to the extent that, like Signoret’s Massot, she oversteps professional boundaries on occasion. Even without reference to the plot, the contrast between the two women is immediately recognisable to viewers from the character-driven costume design, leather jacket versus tailored coats and skirts. At the same time, their alliance in a largely male-dominated profession highlights a form of solidarity and lessens the degree of conflict in their working environment.

The logic behind this division of female roles is not without links to the Freudian madonna-whore reduction, something Wolf (1997) saw as intensified by the impact of second-wave feminism. While the “pure” madonna-mother struggles to balance the demands made on her by juggling family and work, the more sexually-liberated single woman exploits her attractiveness to draw in both suspects and male colleagues; in the case of Femmes de loi, the complicity of the two women could be read as a reintegration of both roles into one unit. 

Engrenages [Spiral], a very popular series successfully exported to over 70 countries, notably the United Kingdom, gives a slightly new twist to the split formula: here the two lead female characters are the leather jacket-wearing Captain Laure Berthaud and the ambitious and corrupt lawyer Joséphine Karlsson. Again, costume design reinforces the differences between the two women. Visually, Berthaud is a tough, no-nonsense investigator with rather unruly men under her command (one of whom is involved with drugs and prostitution). Karlsson on the other hand frequently appears in deeply décolleté outfits with stiletto heels, and is always impeccably groomed. It would be tempting to see Berthaud’s aggressive persona as influenced by the Scandinavian models of Sarah Lund and Saga Norén by reason of her casual attitude towards sex, her clothing, and/or her apparent lack of feminine empathy or dress sense, but in fact she precedes them, being created in 2005, as opposed to 2007 and 2011.

This is not the final word on split female roles in Engrenages, however: where Karlsson’s surface femininity quickly gives way to a tough and demanding persona layered over a degree of vulnerability resulting from her ambition-led exposure to legal, criminal and personal reversals which will lead her to attempt suicide, so too does Berthaud’s apparent toughness crack as she realises the emptiness of her personal life, saying “I’m 32 years old, got no man, no kids, nothing” (series 4, episode 8). This thread is even further developed in season 5, when Berthaud realises she is pregnant and initially seeks an abortion, only to find herself developing a sense of attachment to the child, while still leading her squad in an increasingly tough environment.

The relative complexity and the evolution of Engrenages’s female characters makes it impossible to claim that the split between mother and sexually-liberated single woman is an easy one. Nor are there clear boundaries between so-called male and female behaviours. Instead, the series’ representation of women within the justice system is designed to destabilise any facile suppositions about gender and authority, and is far from legitimising the kind of de-feminisation that has been claimed for the two Nordic female detectives.

Elodie Bradford and Candice Renoir: getting it right?

I want now to turn to two recent French series which take a rather different approach to the question of gender-role conflict in crime series investigators. These are Elodie Bradford and Candice Renoir. The former, a single season show, features a young and somewhat naïve female lieutenant: Bradford blunders from error to error, fraternising with handsome suspects (in episode 1 played by Anthony Delon), being distracted by shoes and clothes and preoccupied by food in ways that are reminiscent of Anglo-Saxon chick-lit. One teaser for the show went thus:

Stilletto heels and swirly skirts, a flower in her buttonhole and her heart on her sleeve, Elodie Bradford is the most feminine of police lieutenants. A solitary hunter, she’s on the trail of the perfect crime… and the perfect suspect! Between seduction and deduction, Elodie goes looking alternately for the truth and her soul-mate, not always a good combination. Will her cunning mind and her sharp observation be enough to resist the most attractive of murderers? (L’Internaute)

There are numerous traits here that confirm the chick-lit influence: the search for romance, the frilly girliness, high heels and lipstick, as well as a tendency to fall for the bad guy, are all reminiscent of innumerable chick-lit heroines, notably Bridget Jones. It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that Bradford’s personal life dominates her work, except that she does indeed unmask the culprit in the end. The plot lines clearly focus on the fluffier side of the detective, who not only goes out on dates with good-looking villains, but allows herself to waste time at a crime scene in a designer fashion store admiring the merchandise on display. Add to the above-mentioned dress code a penchant for purple or pink trenchcoats and driving a bright yellow Mini, and the heightened contrast of stereotypical feminine behaviours and mental muscle becomes even more apparent.   

Candice Renoir differs markedly from Elodie Bradford in featuring a mother of four children (including twin boys), recently separated from her husband and seeking to restart her former career in the police force. Her maternal responsibilities bring her into the category of “mommy lit”, rather than chick lit: in this subgenre mothers retain their attractiveness and romantic uncertainties post-children.[11] In this series the detective is not only (nor principally) a “yummy mummy”, but someone capable of solving crimes through the sharpness of her intellect and her strength of character. While her personality could not be more opposed to that of the Scandinavian ice queens, or of the hardboiled American loner, she is very astute about other people’s attitudes and behaviour, and is no less capable as a detective. Instead of separating Renoir’s personal and professional lives, the show brings the two together: her children regularly change the ringtone on her phone to ridiculous noises (monkeys screaming or donkeys braying, for example), necessitating brief explanations and/or apologies during investigations, and perhaps more importantly, reminding her, her colleagues and the viewer of her status as mother; she responds to rebellious behaviour from her unit on first meeting with them exactly as she would to her children’s disobedience – “I’m going to count to three: one… two… three…” (series 1, episode 1). The Barbie-like appearance commented on disparagingly by her new team is more than compensated for by her ability to spot clues no one else has noticed – frequently due to her knowledge of domains that are not typically considered “feminine”, such as electrical wiring or painting (series 2, episode 8). Her blondness is also invaluable for lulling criminals into taking her for an empty-headed flirt and giving themselves away. At the same time, tricking a suspect into a confession by swapping recipes, inferring from the colour of a murdered woman’s hair roots that she had been scrimping on personal grooming due to lack of money (series 1, episode 1), or recognising the smell of expensive massage oil and deducing that a victim had unexplained income for luxuries (season 1, episode 6) are strong indicators of her ability to use feminine skills in her pursuit of justice.

Here, then, is an example of a woman lead detective who combines female attributes such as empathy, motherliness, charm and pink handbags with those “masculine” abilities of logic, deduction and authority in ruthless pursuit of the perpetrators of crimes. 


In a study of three television series of the 1970s and 80s, including Madame le juge, Karamanoukian (2009, p. 153-154) stresses the “feminine qualities” of the three female investigators – intuition and empathy dominate in a reassuringly familiar depiction of gendered behaviours. At the same time, there is a focus on the recent changes brought to women’s social status by second wave feminism. Any conflicts between acceptable, “womanly” behaviour and the rigours of working within the justice system are not so much resolved as left to run in parallel, with the tension between the dual roles remaining.

Later series such as Julie Lescaut and Une femme d’honneur also maintain this double focus, while at the same time pushing a feminist line according to which it was possible to manage both career and solo motherhood. Femmes de loi and to some extent Engrenages offer a kind of solution to the conflict between these roles, by splitting them between two characters, essentially creating a hardboiled, single police officer and either a married and rather more professional mother figure, or a seductive and ambitious siren figure. Neither of these alternates is necessarily completely at ease with her position on the spectrum, and evidence of role conflict emerges from time to time.

Perhaps surprisingly (to those of us with a dismissive attitude towards chick-lit) it is in the “pinker” versions of the female detective, Elodie Bradford and Candice Renoir, that a kind of resolution can be found: the girliness characteristic of these series is in fact a cover for the detective’s underlying ability to see the truth behind the deceit practised by the culprits. It is here that the chick-lit (or mommy-lit) end of the spectrum reveals itself as being in line with some of the principles of a more recent feminism. As Rampton (2008) puts it:

An aspect of third wave feminism that mystifies the mothers of the earlier feminist movement is the readoption by young feminists of the very lipstick, high heels and cleavage proudly exposed by low cut necklines that the first two phases of the movement identified with male oppression. Pinkfloor[12] expressed this new position when she said; “It’s possible to have a push-up bra and a brain at the same time.”

What all these examples have in common is their representation of women investigators caught up in networks of responsibilities, and in the socially-constructed division between personal and professional life, exacerbated by stereotypical expectations of female behaviour. While there will no doubt continue to be series with conflicted female lead detectives, and the hardboiled vs feminine dialectic may be with us for some time to come, we would do well to remain open to other possibilities from perhaps unexpected quarters as third wave feminism seeks to break down expectations of separately gendered behaviour and to have it all. 



BROWN, J. (2007) “From Cult of Masculinity to Smart Macho: Gender Perspectives on Police Occupational Culture.” In O’NEILL, M., MARKS, M. and SINGH, A.-M. (eds). Police Occupational Culture. New Debates and Directions. Oxford: Elsevier. pp. 205-226.

BUTLER, J. (2000) Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge.

CROSLAND, M. (1976) Women of Iron and Velvet, and the Books They Wrote in France. London: Constable.

HAYWARD, S. (2004) Simone Signoret: the Star as Cultural Sign. New York: Continuum.

HEIDENSOHN, F. and BROWN, J. (2012) “From Juliet to Jane: Women Police in TV Cop Shows, Reality, Rank and Careers.” In NEWBURN, T. and PEAY, J. (eds). Policing: Politics, Culture and Control. Oxford: Hart Publishing. pp. 111-134.

HILL, R. (1995) The Iron Hand in the Velvet Glove: the Modernisation of Policing in New Zealand 1886–1917. Wellington: Dunmore Press.

HONG-MERCIER, S.-K. (2004) “Les Femmes-flics et les relations familiales dans les séries télévisées françaises.” In SELLIER, G. and BEYLOT, P. (eds). Séries télévisées. Paris: L’Harmattan. pp. 273-288.

L’INTERNAUTE. Elodie Bradford, volume 1. Available from: [Accessed: 10 November 2014].

KARAMANOUKIAN, T. (2009) “Les Héroïnes des séries policières au tournant des années 70-80: enjeux d’autorité et de légitimité autour de trois femmes qui mènent l’enquête.” In MOINE, R. and SELLIER, G. (eds). Policiers et criminels: un genre populaire européen sur grand et petit écran. Paris: L’Harmattan. pp. 145-155.

MOINE, R. and SELLIER, G. (2009). “Les Fictions policières françaises à la télévision: conformisme ou diversité?” In MOINE, R., ROLLET, B. and SELLIER, G. (eds). Policiers et criminels: un genre populaire européen sur grand et petit écran. Paris: L’Harmattan. pp. 167-179.

RAMPTON, M. (2008) The Three Waves of Feminism. Available from: [Accessed 10 November 2014].

REINER, R. (1985) The Politics of the Police. Brighton: Wheatsheaf.

SELLIER, G. (2004) “Construction des identités de sexe dans les séries policières françaises.” In SELLIER, G. and BEYLOT, P. (eds). Séries télévisées. Paris: L’Harmattan. pp. 259-272.

TURNBULL, S. (2014) The TV Crime Drama. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

WADDINGTON, P.A.J. (2012) “Cop Culture.” In NEWBURN, T. and PEAY, J. (eds). Policing: Politics, Culture and Control. Oxford: Hart Publishing. pp. 89-109.

WOLF, N. (1997) Promiscuities. The Secret Struggle for Womanhood. New York: Random House.


Television Series

Broadchurch (2013-) UK, ITV.

Bron/Broen (2011-2012) Sweden/Denmark, SVT1, DR1.

Cagney and Lacey (1981-1988) USA, CBS.

Candice Renoir (2013-) France, FR2.

Decoy: Policewoman (1957-1958) USA, Alpha Video.

Elodie Bradford (2004-2007) France, M6.

Engrenages (2005-) France, Canal +.

Femmes de loi (2000-2009) France, TF1.

Forbrydelsen / The Killing (2007-2012) Denmark, DR1.

Julie Lescaut (1992-2014) France, TF1.

King (2011-2012) Canada, Showcase.

Madame le juge (1978) France, A2.

Scott and Bailey (2011- ) UK, ITV.

Une femme d’honneur (1996-2008) France, TF1.

Vera (2011-) UK, ITV.



[1] Cited by Waddington (2012, p. 90).

[2] See, for example, Hill (1995). We might also think here of the tired stereotype of ‘good cop, bad cop’ which could be read as a combination of so-called feminine and masculine behaviours designed to confuse and intimidate suspects into confessing.

[3] See the well-known Atlantic crossings of series such as Forbrydelsen / The Killing, Broadchurch / Gracepoint, or the trans-European replication of Broen / Brøn / The Tunnel or indeed Los Misterios de Laura (Spain) / The Mysteries of Laura (USA) / or the more subtle imitation of Candice Renoir (France).

[4] The UK remake, The Tunnel (2013, with a second season announced for 2016) and the US remake of Forbrydelsen as The Killing (2011-2014), while providing further evidence of the popularity of this style of detective, will not concern us here.

[5] I do not mean to imply here that gender behaviour is fixed: as Butler (1990) pointed out it can be considered a performance. My point is that while popular culture can be a site of gender role contestation (Conchita Wurst’s winning of the 2014 Eurovision Song Quest being very much a case in point) it tends on the whole to reinforce accepted codes of behaviour.

[6] This is by no means a complete list, but is intended to represent several major tendencies in police series with lead women characters. For more details, see Moine and Sellier (2009). For both Engrenages (Spiral) and Candice Renoir further series have recently been announced for 2016.

[7] All translations are my own.

[8] At risk of stating the obvious, this is the same pattern seen in Nordic television and film heroines, from Millennium’s Lisbeth Salander to Lund and Norén, or even in British television’s Vera.

[9] Karamanoukian describes it as “une série de téléfilms” rather than a series proper, and “haut de gamme” [with high production values] (2009, p. 146-7).

[10] Hayward cites an interview with two women juges d’instruction published in Télé 7 jours (18 March 1978, p. 125) in which they state that 80% of suspects attempted to seduce a woman investigator (2004, p. 275-6).

[11] Candice Renoir here differs from the long-running Spanish series, Los misterios de Laura, from which it has nevertheless borrowed a number of elements, such as having twin boys and regular upheavals brought into the protagonist’s professional life by her family circumstances.

[12] A Danish game designer.


Jean Anderson is Associate Professor of French at Victoria University of Wellington, where she was fouding director of the New Zealand Centre for Literary Translation 2007-2011. Recent publications are in French and Francophone contemporary and late 19th-century women’s writing, crime fiction, literary translation and television crime series. She is co-editor, with Carolina Miranda and Barbara Pezzotti, of The Foreign in International Crime Fiction: Transcultural Representations (Continuum, 2012) and Serial Crime Fiction: Dying for More (forthcoming, Palgrave Macmillan 2015). She has translated or co-translated the work of several Pacific writers, including Chantal Spitz and Moetai Brotherson (Tahiti) and Patricia Grace (New Zealand).


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The Australian Journal of Crime Fiction
Vol 1 No 1 Special Issue 2015
'Detecting and (Re)Solving Conflicts in French Crime Fiction' Special Issue Editors: Jean Anderson, Angela Kimyongür, and Alistair Rolls