Ladies had a troubling time in the Old West. In a genre that celebrates the lone male protagonist, substantial roles for women are often left in the dust, with only the tumbleweed for company. In westerns, it seems women are either homemakers or whores, forever doomed to be dependent on brave, tough men whose domain they've found themselves in. Sometimes, even the horse gets more screen time than the lowly females.
But, with the release of The Salvation, starring Mads Mikkelsen and Eva Green, riding into cinemas with both complex male and female characters in tow, it seems westerns are finally entering the modern age. We take a look at the rare strong women who made an impact in the Wild West.
Etta Place – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969)
The Paul Newman and Robert Redford classic sees Katherine Ross hold her own as the formidable and intelligent schoolteacher, Etta Place. Helping the outlaws evade capture, she becomes an accomplice and teaches the pair Spanish so they can continue in their bank robbing ways. Despite being in love with Sundance, she decides to walk away when she solemnly announces: "I'll do anything you ask of me, except one thing: I won't watch you die. I'll miss that scene if you don't mind."
Constance Miller – McCabe and Mrs Miller (1971)
In Robert Altman’s take on the western, Constance Miller (Julie Christie) arrives in a developing town and states that she could run a successful brothel in order to help bring in more money. Her shrewd business acumen ultimately leads her to open a higher class establishment and bath house, while the town becomes richer. Unfortunately, this new wealth attracts developers, and when head of the town John McCabe overplays negotiations, despite Mrs Miller’s advice, bounty hunters are ordered to kill him.
Mattie Ross – True Grit (2010)
In perhaps the strongest female role ever featured in a western, not just because the story is told from the perspective of Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld), but also is completely dependent on her. True Grit's storyline is set in motion once the 14 year-old decides to take revenge on her father's murderer. Hiring the meanest US Marshal (Jeff Bridges), and manipulating a Texas Ranger (Matt Damon) in order to track the villain down, Mattie is unstoppable in her quest for justice.
Broomhilda Von Shaft – Django Unchained (2012)
Quentin Tarantino took his pulp lens to the western and created a strong-willed and unique character in Broomhilda Von Shaft (Kerry Washington), a German-speaking slave determined to reach freedom. When her husband (Jamie Foxx) and his bounty hunting partner (Christoph Waltz) scheme to free her, she goes along with the complex plan, despite being shamed into displaying her scars from years of whipping. At the film's high-octane climax, she brandishes a shotgun as she takes on her oppressors.
Madelaine – The Salvation (2015)
This latest modern western features another unforgettable female role in Madelaine (Eva Green), a woman who refuses to give up despite years of suffering and tragedy. With her tongue cut out during childhood, and her parents murdered, her unrelenting drive for a better future makes her a survivor and a ruthless force of nature. She silently plots against the violent Delarue and his gang with expressions that could send shivers down your spine.