Up the Women. More Please!

Up the Women pic by Gary Moyes

I hope you saw at least one episode of Up the Women on BBC 2. If not, the DVD comes out in March and I whole heartedly recommend it. It’s a rare and precious thing to find a comedy written by a woman, starring mainly women (a couple of lovely chaps get supporting roles), and all about feminism! What’s not to like indeed? And like it I did. If you know something about the topic you will pick up on the many clever references, and if you don’t, you’ll just enjoy the gently subversive comedy and fine acting.

But you don’t need to take my word for it. Read this review that appeared in The Guardian newspaper in January 2015:

Could It Be the Dad’s Army of the Suffragette Movement?
Strong characters, dialogue peppered with frequent little joys of unforeseen silliness and some of the funniest females in the country – what’s not to like?

The women of the Banbury Intricate Craft Circle (Politely Demands Women’s Suffrage) are on hunger strike in support of their suffragette sisters languishing in prison. But the temptations of the flesh prove too much in Jessica Hynes’s hugely enjoyable Up the Women (BBC2). With an impressive female cast, including Judy Parfitt, Emma Pierson and Vicki Pepperdine, the comedy, set in 1910, also features a typically commanding turn from Rebecca Front as iron-knickered, stick-in-the-mud Helen – the only suffrage naysayer among the women who meet regularly to eat cake, do their samplers and discuss the fight for equality. They are led by Margaret (Hynes), a passionate blue-stocking whose dreams of joining the movement are frustrated by adherence to social convention and, more often, cowardice.

For a comedy about suffragettes, Up the Women actually had little to do with the women chaining themselves to railings, instead focusing on the ones who didn’t quite make it to the frontline. Basically, Dad’s Army complete with village hall setting and motley band of social oddments, playing at war. Instead of going to prison and marching on parliament, the craft circle busied themselves with the minutiae of Edwardian life, occasionally playing at activism but with little commitment. Hence the hunger strike that ended abruptly when Gwen (Pepperdine) arrived with a backpack full of cheese.

Following its move from BBC Four (the first series was a three-episode run on the channel), a few more dodgy puns have appeared. But the core of the show remains Hynes’s strongly drawn characters, with Margaret in particular standing out as a sort of kindly Captain Mainwaring, full of high ideals but ultimately lacking the courage to make a stand. On her well-intentioned hunger strike, she confides in her diary: “Where once I gave a bun scant attention, now it haunts my every thought.” It transpires that she abstained for only an hour.

Meanwhile an arranged marriage was in the offing for young Emily (Georgia Groome), Helen’s spirited daughter. When she resisted, Helen thundered: “A young girl of society should be concerned with hemlines, table mats and the cost of iron ore, not wasting her youth changing the world.” The dialogue was peppered with frequent little joys of unforeseen silliness and just the sound of women using long words without apology was exciting, never mind the commissioning of a sitcom written by and starring some of the funniest females in the country. Long may it continue.

Hear, hear to that! I sincerely hope a third series has already been commissioned.

You may also enjoy reading Is Feminism Middle Class & Elitist? Yes, says Baroness Wolf, no say I and Gender Gap in Voting?

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Photo credit: Gary Moyes

Posted on February 27th, 2015 by

One Response to “Up the Women. More Please!”

  1. Rachel Hubbard says:

    Really glad to see you’ve enjoyed this too, Jane.
    A shared love of silly comedy and interest in feminist history have made this essential viewing for both my son and daughter. It was fantastic to then go on to watch the two part history of suffragism on BBC Four afterwards.
    I’m also glad you’ve found a positive review as all I’ve seen has been sniffy.

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