'Fleabag' star Sian Clifford says 'women have to put in more work than men' to be successful
Sian Clifford plays Fleabag's elder sister Claire who finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage with no hope on the horizon
Written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, BBC Three production 'Fleabag' is a complicated show with complex characters. The show's leads are all trying to figure their stuff out.
Fleabag, for instance, spends most of her time trying to escape her reality because she can't bring herself to face it.
On the other hand, Claire, Fleabag's elder sister played by Sian Clifford, finds herself trapped in a loveless marriage with no hope on the horizon. Signs that her marriage to Martin (played by Brett Gelman) was deteriorating were shown to us early on in the first season. It started with the lessening of intimacy followed by withdrawal of affection. The Finland promotion that she was looking forward to couldn't happen because she was bogged down by her responsibilities.
"I know Claire feels incredibly trapped in her position," says Clifford, who plays Claire. "She feels everything will fall apart [when she isn't there], that she is the keystone and if she steps away from all her responsibilities, everything will fall apart."
That is one reason why she steps away from her Finland promotion in the first place.
"She doesn't want to surrender her stepson to a life lived with just Martin. She feels terrible about that. At the same time, Claire doesn't want to leave her sister to fend for herself - a situation where she feels incredibly responsible," says Clifford.
Clifford says that Claire is not exactly a rule-breaker, so she finds it very difficult to see beyond the world that she has made for herself. "She is also a victim to it [her world]," she says.
Gelman plays the role of a manipulative husband and a wicked, spineless man who is very easy to despise.
In the first season of the series, Gelman's Martin is introduced by Fleabag as someone who is inappropriate at all times regardless of the occasion. He is the kind of man who will make an offensive joke, and then blame you for getting offended because you're being too touchy.
As Claire's husband, Martin is absolutely dreadful — he refuses to show any kind of affection towards his wife, he manipulates her into staying back for Jake (who is his kid, not hers), even going to the extent of convincing Claire to not take her promotion in Finland.
Towards the end of the season, Martin makes a speech at Godmother and Dad's wedding. He says that he is a good father and a good husband — he lists what he does for them as a family, basically justifying that he is a good person. But this speech feels unnecessary because the things he lists are done by fathers anyway — he is only doing the bare minimum that is required out of him.
At the same time, Claire had really suppressed her dreams and beliefs in the first season — we see her struggling but being with him without counting what she does in the marriage.
Clifford says patriarchy is at the root of this — that women have to "put in more work than men in order to be successful in their careers".
"We've all been socially conditioned [to this] and the behavior is so normalized that we don't even question it. I feel like they're very old patterns of behavior. Unless we are willing to question them, nothing is going to happen," she says.
At the end, Claire leaves the marriage for good and goes behind Klare, her business partner who she is in love with. "And I just hope that whatever happens with Claire and Martin, I hope it gives people, particularly women in similar difficult/toxic relationships, the courage to walk away and I think Claire is such a brilliant symbol of that notion," she says.
"I believe that we are living in extraordinary times where we are beginning to upheave all those very old notions of seeing. I feel very positive about where we're heading although I feel like the upheaval is pretty uncomfortable considering the time that we are living right now."
The actress hopes that Claire's story on 'Fleabag' sets an example for other women in similar situations.
Clifford points out that, in difficult times, one just needs to be aware of the fact that things will change. "I think we need to be presented with possibilities. We need the representation of hope or of something other. Women have a certain pressure to succeed [in relationships] in a way that there is no pressure on men in the same way."