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Renée Schafer Horton: British TV, where people look their age
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Renée Schafer Horton: British TV, where people look their age

The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:

The Brits have saved my sanity during the pandemic, from the meditation app where a calm, lilting voice tells me to imagine a warm pinprick of sunlight spreading through my body to the encouraging couple on my exercise videos exclaiming, “Blimey!” at the end of a particularly difficult set.

But the highlight of my across-the-pond refuge has been British television, where fries are chips, violence is significantly less gratuitous and those fabulous accents make even the tersest dialogue sound soothing.

The thing I most appreciate about the programs – be it “Call the Midwife,” “Happy Valley” or the super feel-good escape of “All Creatures Great and Small” – are the faces on the screen.

It took me awhile to figure out exactly what was different watching these shows, but then it dawned on me: During a year of outrageous lies and nonstop stress, there was a particular honesty in British television. To wit, the actors and actresses – you might want to sit down for this – actually looked their age.

This truth-in-viewing facial amazingness has been apparent in every British show I’ve watched in the past 10 months. The actors’ faces and bodies illustrate the reality of a life lived, not a life wished for. There’s real age diversity, with smoothed-skinned, taut-muscled young things acting next to middle-aged and older actors and actresses with wrinkles, jowls, broad backsides and foreheads that reveal expression.

Apparently, British thespians are allowed to age naturally because the profession across the Atlantic judges actors on their craft, not a nip-and-tucked artificial beauty that is de rigueur in Hollywood.

I’m certain there must be British actresses who’ve “had work done,” especially if they make the mistake of moving from London to LA. But overall, turn on any British show and you can accurately guess the performers’ ages by their faces.

U.S. actresses say it is absolutely necessary to craft a forever-30-something look in an industry dominated by patriarchy, and surely that is partially true. The hyper-sexualization of our society is apparent to anyone with eyeballs, even if it is denied (and even defended) by various parts of that same society.

Yet, more and more women are movie producers and directors, and their female cast members still look like sculptures instead of humans. Why on earth is that necessary if, just over there, compelling television is made with men and women looking their age?

No doubt it is because the U.S. suffers from rampant ageism, no matter what the profession. We tend to dismiss anyone over the age of 60 as out-of-touch and unmarketable, and we basically ignore those in their 70s and beyond. (If the treatment of nursing home residents during the pandemic taught us anything, it should have been this.)

Last year, watching the pre-pandemic Oscars, I saw then-64-year-old Geena Davis on the red carpet and thought, “Maybe if I drink more water, I can look like I’m 38 again, too.”

But nothing sans massive cosmetic surgery will make me look 38 again – or even 48. And I never realized how irritating I found the endless parade of artificially preserved American celebrities until I started watching normally preserved British ones.

No wonder I reach the credits after an episode of “Shakespeare and Hathaway” feeling happy and relaxed instead of annoyed and anxious, wondering if I should purchase yet another miracle cream. British TV has freed me from the impossible comparison that happens when something fake is presented as “normal” ad nauseam. I highly recommend it as a pandemic sanity saver.

Renee Schafer Horton is a regular Star contributor. Reach her at

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