An Ordinary Woman is a story about the seemingly perfect life of florist and ordinary Moscow woman, Marina Lavrova (Anna Mikhalkova), who lives with her surgeon husband Artyom (Yevgeni Grishkovetz), eldest daughter Katya (Elizaveta Kononova) and younger daughter Tanya (Arina Rusu). Both daughters are studying at prestigious educational institutes.
But scratch the surface of this façade and we find a web of extraordinary lies. The family is suffering financially, Artyom is unfaithful, Katya is a drug dealer and Tanya is a sociopath. And Marina is not really making her money from the florist business. To keep her family afloat, she has turned to radical means and leads a secret double life running a sex worker network via a WhatsApp group – a secret she has managed to keep from her family.
Marina’s entire secret life is stored on her phone. While the sex worker business is very profitable for Marina, it is also very dangerous. When tragedy strikes one of her workers, all of Marina’s well-guarded secrets threaten to break through the screen that conceals them.
Breaking Bad meets Happy Valley
An Ordinary Woman brings an interesting twist to the screen by blending multiple genres to come up with elements of dark comedy and family drama sitting atop the central crime story. Critics have likened the series to being a blend of Breaking Bad and UK cop show Happy Valley. Like Walter White from Breaking Bad, Marina has to turn to a radical solution far outside her daily existence to survive under extreme pressure. And morality has no place in either of their solutions.
Of her character, Mikhalkova says, “Marina is an ordinary woman who found herself in unordinary circumstances. I can’t find this character unlikable, as my main challenge in this project is making Marina the most clear and likeable character.”
And like Happy Valley’s strong yet vulnerable Sergeant Catherine Cawood, female character stereotypes are also challenged in An Ordinary Woman. Marina is depicted as a complex, flawed and resilient woman in a world of weaker men, but the series does not judge her and stops short of trying to fix or save her.
“We call her ‘ordinary’, as Marina, like most women in our country has to bear responsibility for the whole family: to earn money, run the household, and raise children... It seems to me, now there happens a shift in gender roles: 21st-century man is a woman” says Mikhalkova.
Russian portrayal of women on screen
Directed by Boris Khlebnikov (Arrhythmia) and written by Maria Melenevskaya and Denis Utochkin, An Ordinary Woman is the first Russian TV series to have women leads. In a traditional country like Russia, men have usually taken on the strong and powerful roles with women playing secondary characters. It has been difficult to find a TV series that passes the Bechdel test, which assesses the representation of women in fiction.
On this, leading Russian film and TV consultant Alexandra Modestova says: “But times are changing. Since top Russian producers now focus on the global market and make series intended for worldwide audiences, they have to adapt the way Russian women are seen and presented by local television.”
An Ordinary Woman took out the 2018 Series Mania Best Actress for Anna Mikhalkova, and Best TV Mini-Series and Best TV Actress (Anna Mikhalkova) at the National Film and Television Producers Association Awards 2019 (Russia). An Ordinary Woman also won two awards at the prestigious 2018 Russian Tagline Awards.
With the emergence of TV dramas like An Ordinary Woman, international audiences are exposed to life in contemporary Russia through the eyes of engaging female characters, stunning cinematography and an absorbing story.
Will Russian dramas be the new front of must-watch TV?
Stream the complete first season of An Ordinary Woman from 9 May at SBS On Demand.