Everyone loves a hero, but we worship a good villain. Strong women come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors, and sometimes that means looking up to a character who has no interest in being your role model. All this month, we're presenting Not Your Shero, a series that celebrates anti-heroes, villains, and all the women way too busy wreaking havoc to save you.
A truly good villain has to strike fear into the heart of both viewer and hero. No one wants to see a foe that is easily vanquished. Where is the thrill in that? No, a truly formidable baddie has to have the upper hand until the very last minute. Sure, we know the rules of narrative usually dictate the triumph of good over evil, but you’ve got to have that kernel of doubt for an effective story.
There’s a lot to love in Ron Howard’s cult classic Willow. A truly compelling and honorable hero in Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis). Val Kilmer’s peak ‘80s hotness. A host of powerful women. All of the classic swords and magic tropes that fantasy fans have always adored. If you haven’t watched it in a while, check it out. I guarantee you’ll have a good time.
Easily the best part of the film is the ferocious Queen Bavmorda, played with a heaping dose of malice by Jean Marsh. Ruling with an iron fist and a truly bitchin’ crown, Bavmorda ensures that everyone lives in fear of her marauding army and her stronghold on Nockmaar. Wicked queens/sorcerers/witches are a dime a dozen in fantasy, but Bavmorda manages to elevate the character type into a truly terrifying force. Get in her way, and you may find yourself with cloven hooves. A combination of raw power and cunning, Bavmorda deserves a spot in the Villain Hall of Fame.
While she may be inflicting pain on our heroes (bummer), I would be lying if I said it wasn’t satisfying to see a mighty woman turning men who are attempting to strip her of her power into literal pigs with a snap of her fingers. Before you scream at me about misandry, come on. This is such a power move. She has built an empire from the ground up, so obviously, she’s going to fight tooth and nail to maintain it. Sure, she’s super evil and is attempting to kill a baby because of a prophecy (Bavmorda is truly the OG. Voldemort who?), but she is a self-made woman. Who would want to hand over their power to a tiny (albeit adorable) upstart who is given sovereign power based solely on a birthmark?
However, one of the most compelling things about Bavmorda’s power struggle is that she and her rival, the witch Fin Raziel (Patricia Hayes), are both older women and their final battle is completely without vanity. An unfortunate aspect of female villainy is that seduction and sexuality are so often tangled up in their power — because what could be worse than a woman in charge of her desires? — but this battle of longtime rivals isn’t focused on objectifying women’s bodies. No one is “fighting pretty.” Instead, these women wield their power with the confidence that comes with age and experience. No one is making battle moves with the audiences’ titillation in mind. Instead, these women fight with all of the blood, trickery, and savagery that comes with being human. Perhaps a little more than human, but the flesh and blood remains.
Too many lives would be at stake if Bavmorda had remained on her throne, and I cannot in good conscience root for the triumph of evil over good, but I would love to see an origin story about her rise to power. If she has to fall to Elora Danan and the forces of Galladoorn, give us some time to relish her time victorious.