How the Irish black comedy Bad Sisters examines female trauma, empowerment and sorority

By Rachael Spray, October 11 2023

Bad Sisters (2022) is black comedy whodunit that centres around a close-knit group of Irish sisters Eva, Ursula, Bibi and Becka, who conspire to murder the abusive husband of their beloved sister Grace.

The series is based on the soap like Flemish show Clan. Sharon Horgan the creator and co-writer of the show felt she was compelled to adapt the original, as she watched it during a time in which domestic abuse was skyrocketing as women were trapped with their abusers during the Coronavirus lockdown. Once the series was in development other pivotal current events such as Roe V Wade in America and the ongoing issue of women rights in Iran were also happening. Horgan (2023) felt that the idea that actually we are stronger when we band together and we don’t have to be subjugated by religious men and that John Paul (the antagonist) is a righteous man who feels he has God and religion on his side and sees the sisters as immoral.

Figure 1. Sharon Horgan and Claes Bang

Grace the abused wife, an intelligent and vibrant woman becomes a ghost of her former self from the constant emotional manipulative abuse she suffers from her husband John Paul (JP). For instance, JP mocks her regarding her sexual desires, chastises her for wearing lingerie, makes rude comments on her intelligence, restricts her movements and demeaningly refers to her as ‘Mammy’ constantly, stripping her confidence and desexualising her. 

While never explicitly violent, he forcibly, mentally pushes her into the role of the long suffering, sexless and one dimensional mother role that is a common trope often seen in Ireland’s most popular comedic exports. Instances of this range from the neurotic tea making obsessed Mrs Doyle in the 90’s sitcom ‘Father Ted’, Brendan Carroll’s drag character Agnes Brown in ‘Mrs Brown Boys’ and the character of Debra Moone in ‘Moone Boy’.

However, seeing this demoralisation of her sister, Eva the defacto leader of the ‘Bad Sisters’ who is played by Sharon Horgan, reflects that Grace has gotten “quieter and smaller” initially joking to her sisters how they must get rid of him and get their sister back. You can watch this scene here.

Female Screenwriter (Star Locke, 2023) remarked how in Bad Sisters, the idea of being reduced over time in that way is something rarely depicted on screen but is an absolute daily reality for many mothers. 

JP doesn’t just abuse his wife, he terrorises all the sisters in different ways. Constantly making demeaning jabs at Becka the youngest and most fragile sister.  Blackmailing Ursula about her affair and making cruel sexist remarks at Eva regarding her infertility and attempt to get a promotion at work. This constant barrage of mental abuse he is inflicting means that the sisters are at the end of their tether with him and feel they must band together to stop him.

Journalist (Handel, 2023) shared this sentiment in her review of the series that Bad Sisters is a rare show that dares to turn hopelessness and suffering into a poignant look at a group of women with no option but to save themselves.

While it’s clear to the viewer JP is portrayed as almost cartoonishly evil, as he is the epitome of nastiness and coercive control whose behaviour ultimately drives the sisters to plot his murder, the series allows us to suspend belief and enjoy the comedic handling of this sensitive and troubling topic. The Atlantic journalist (Gilbert, 2022) writes how his characteristics are relatable to many women. Watching him, you might feel small spasms of repulsion and rage, relics of muscle memory from bad men gone by. The actor who played the character of JP (Bang, 2023) felt he was proud the show shined a light on toxic masculinity and coercive and abusive relationships and to portray that, he drew on all the darkness he had seen during his 55 years on this planet.

Ultimately, after multiple failed attempts on his life by the sisters. Grace is the one that commits the deed against her husband, after finally snapping when learning that JP raped her sister Eva 10 years ago, when she was drunk. Which is very much a real life issue, people being taken advantage of when they are under the influence, the perpetrators getting away with such crimes by blaming it on the victim and the abuser carrying on as if nothing happened. Ursula’s comments in one scene “Surely we just explain what he did, the rape, the abuse, he’s pushed us all over the edge.” Eva acerbically and impactfully replies “Oh yeah, ’cause that always works for women.” This assault which most likely contributed to Eva’s subsequent miscarriage a decade ago makes JP’s previous comments about her infertility so much more cutting.

‘Bad Sisters’ fight back against the oppressor JP, both figuratively and metaphorically, it pushes against the classic female stereotypes often seen in media of the long suffering wife, docile mother and damsel in distress. This was further proven when The Critics Choice Association Women’s Committee awarded it a Seal of Female Empowerment in Entertainment, which recognizes outstanding film and television series that illuminate the female experience and perspective through authentically told female-driven stories. To be eligible, qualifying projects must have a prominent female character arc, give female characters at least equal screen time to male characters, have female leaders behind the scenes, and pass elements highlighted in the Bechdel test. 

Figure 2. The Bad Sisters

When receiving the award (Horgan, 2023) stated “I’m only realising now the full impact of telling these kinds of stories. I’ve received messages from women all around the world who have found themselves in similar situations to Grace but without sisters to save them. All of the team involved in the show are incredibly proud to receive this recognition and inspired to continue to tell enlightening and entertaining female driven stories.”

While Bad Sisters is very dark and fantastical, it is an important depiction of the classic meaning of sorority, women who share similar values and goals coming together to fight for what they feel is true and morally right. It is only by supporting each other that we advance and develop the gender equality agenda, which ultimately leads to a fairer and more progressive society that embraces all.


Sharon, H (2022) Bad sisters’ Sharon Horgan wanted you to root for murder, Interview by Jen Chaney Vulture. Available at: 

Star Locke, A. (2023) On Bad Sisters: Fighting Back Against Being Smaller and Quieter, Talkhouse. Available at: 

Handal, M. (2022) Stop What You’re Doing Right Now and Watch Bad Sisters, W Magazine. Available at:

Gilbert, S. (2022) The Wrath of a Woman Without Any Options, The Atlantic. Available at: 

Bang, C (2023) ‘Someone threw a brick at my car’: what’s it like to play a terrible TV villain?, Interview by Michael Horgan The Guardian. Available at:

Critics Choice Association Selects “Brainwashed: Sex-Camera-Power” and “Bad Sisters” to receive SOFEE Seal (2022) Critics Choice Awards. Available at: