Angela Carter: Of Wolves and Women, review – this brilliant, fantastical writer would have hated such unalloyed adoration

Author Angela Carter in the early Seventies - BBC
Author Angela Carter in the early Seventies - BBC

There were many moments in Angela Carter: Of Wolves and Women (BBC Two) that lingered in the mind. Almost all were provided by Carter herself, speaking in tones no less waspish for being delivered three or more decades ago.  

“Okay, so I write overblown, purple self-indulgent, prose. So f---ing what?” was a particularly fine rebuke to critics. Although a line that summed up her work rather better was: “I think all art is political. I think you can’t walk down the street without being political.”

No one with even a passing acquaintance with Carter’s macabre, fantastical writing could think it less than brilliant. Words leap off the page, pummelling eyes, ears and brain with vivacity and wit, alive with deeper meaning. Even so, few would go so far in their claims for it as super-fan author Jeanette Winterson in her opening remark: “Any woman writing now has been influenced by Angela Carter – whether they’ve read her or not.”

It’s a tribute to this documentary that the claim seemed less eyebrow-raising by the close. Carter’s life followed a trajectory that might have been designed for literary mythologising. The suffocating mother, the oppressively depressive first husband, the radicalising trip to Japan, the sneering of (some) critics, the refusal to compromise, the awe in which she was held by students and literary contemporaries, the tragic early death from lung cancer in 1992.

Hattie Morahan played Angela Carter in the documentary's reconstructions  - Credit: BBC
Hattie Morahan played Angela Carter in the documentary's reconstructions Credit: BBC

Despite the praise heaped by heavyweight contemporaries like Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood, Carter emerged here as a fiercely fragile, subversively political talent. The main thrust of the film was how ahead of her time she was, and that perhaps her time has come, finally, now.

Maybe so in terms of gaining a wider readership, but on the evidence presented here Carter seemed absolutely a creature of her time. A writer whose chief aim, and pleasure, was to kick against social and sexual constraint, and the establishment, no matter what form it took. And who probably would have been scathing about the degree of unalloyed adoration on display here.