Gumdrop Lane

An Ode To Old Bags

Note: By “old bags” I’m referring to cranky old British ladies in movies and TV. I mean it in the most respectful and honorable way. When I grow up I hope to be an old bag.

Here’s to the cranks and the old sassy crones
Here’s to the ladies and their big fancy homes
Here’s to their rotten kids and festooned little dogs
Here’s to their fat hats and all their ritzy togs
Most of all here’s to me for writing this to them
And for how I am a dear, a darling, and a shiny little gem

That was partially an ode to me, but whatever. I really like matriarchal mean ladies from period pieces. They have money, attitude and style. They’re usually pretty nasty, which makes them fairly interesting or at least highly entertaining to watch. Though most of the time, if you’re a jerk in real life, I’m not gonna like you. Unless we’re being jerks together behind someone else’s back. You shouldn’t be a turd to someone’s face. That’s just rude and smelly. Nobody likes a turd to the face.

Just look at Dame Judi Dench. First off, in real life she’s a dame so she’s already basically a champion of life. Then she nails playing the domineering captain of film on several occasions. We have her in The Importance of Being Earnest always trying to shut everyone down and succeeding most of the time. She’s a power player.

In Pride and Prejudice, she does it again. Just look at the size of her ‘do. Look how serious she is. This is who we ladies need to aspire to. She totally doesn’t want anyone to have any fun at all in this movie. Once again, she almost succeeds! She never quite manages to totally ruin everyone’s good time…or does she??

She does. She does it in Shakespeare in Love. She completely trashes Shakespeare’s love life, insults people in public, tramps through mud puddles and makes a chick move to a new world that’s across an entire ocean for no good reason. Judi has got it going on. If it weren’t for Judi Shakespeare never would’ve written Twelfth Night. Why can’t more people be like Judi is in all these movies? Sure, she never really smiles or seems to have that great a time, but how can you be worried about fun and games when you’re busy being rich and heavily coiffed?  All you have to worry about is picking up your Oscar, which Judi did.

Next, let us hop on over to Cranford. A miniseries in which Judi appears and plays not the rotten old bag, but the nicest lil lady in town. However, no British town ever went without an old bag of its very own and Cranford is no exception. Just check out Lady Ludlow:

Just kidding. That’s a cow in pajamas. I just wanted you all to know you must watch Cranford because there’s a cow in pajamas on the show. Here’s real Lady Ludlow who is not cow-like at all:

She really is a mean old poop. Her son is an even bigger poop. But as far as mean old poops go, she’s pretty cool. Physically, she’s not exactly a tough old bird, seeing as how she’s pretty spindly and weak most of the time, but she’s got a supercool house and is a staunch woman who doesn’t want to sell her land to a railway company so they can destroy her feudal empire. She’s like a fortress of a lady. Cranford is also home to Mrs. Jamieson and her wonderful dog Giuseppe.

They are both always dressed to the nines and Mrs. Jamieson travels in a chair/hut thing that’s carried around by two guys. That’s the kind of transportation that I could get on board with. She’s horrible to her friends – especially when she tells them all that they’re not good enough to meet her sister-in-law. Poor Giuseppe probably didn’t feel that way, but what’s he supposed to do? He’s busy wearing dresses. Mrs. Jamieson eventually gets her comeuppance. But without ladies like Mrs. Jamieson, we wouldn’t even know what comeuppance is! So thank you to the Mrs. Jamiesons of the world and your comeuppances. Oh, and hey look, it’s Tim Curry.

Looking like as chubby a magician grinch as ever.

Then another Dame. The great Dame Maggie Smith. What’s with these dames having such informal first names? Shouldn’t it be Dame Judith Dench? Dame Magaret Smith? Such informaliteis as ‘Judy’ and ‘Maggie’  seem ridiculous! What’s next – Dame Tootie Ramsey?

I don’t think so, Tootie. Anyway, back to Maggie Smith. She hits up the old crank role about as much as Judi. We get her at her hoity-toity best in Gosford Park:

Just look how unhappy the chick is doing up her necklace. And just look how much like a snippety bird Maggie is. I want some unhappy loser to do up my necklaces for me. And tie my shoes and cut my spaghettis. Mags is also a firecracker in Downton Abbey.

Look how commanding she is. A powerful lady should always have a powerful hat. Back in the olden days the bigger their head or the thing on it, the more powerful they were. Like, if you were a duchess or whatever counts as a high rank in Olde England, you would wear a small goat on your head. But if you were whatever rank is above a duchess, you would wear a large goat on your head.

Yet another dame falls into our laps, but she has the decency to have a dignified normal first name: Helen Mirren. She is more of a modern old bag, but an old bag I admire nonetheless. Yes, we’ve all seen her looking amazing in a bikini, but that’s hardly a talent. I will admire her for portraying the ultimate old bag, the Queen.

Dame Helen Mirren as the queen in The Queen is the hardest, most inscrutable matriarch of them all. Helen does such a great job, she even wins an Oscar for this. So if you’re thinking of going out for an Oscar, just play a British Queen and you’re set. Helen Mirren does another bang-up job playing an old bag spy in The Debt.

She’s not a classic old bag in this film, since she lets two people have sex while they’re about five feet away from her. But this is a more modern old bag – a new bag, if you will. She makes certain sacrifices in order to protect the best interests of her and her loved ones. Just watch Helen’s final scene to see what a new bag really means. New bags like Helen in The Debt mean business and they’ll do whatever it takes to get it done. The new bag has graduated from the old bags’ mere sniping and societal manipulation to grand gestures and actions. And also maybe Nazi-hunting. And you better believe that she’ll be pretty darn cranky the whole way through.

When I’m a mature and terrifyingly wealthy and iron-fisted lady, I will have the biggest hat you’ve ever seen. I’ll be a successful Nazi-hunter and I’ll dress my dog in silk and satin. Tim Curry will be my personal magician grinch. And my best pal? Dame Tootie Ramsey from The Facts of Life.

Originally posted at Gumdrop Lane. Images via,,

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