UK 1899 – 1917, 75 mins, Cert PG A BFI Release
Opening on 23 October 2015 at BFI Southbank, Filmhouse Edinburgh and selected cinemas nationwide
An excellent counterpart to Sarah Gavin’s Suffragette – the dramatisation of the early 20th century women’s movement playing in cinemas now – Make More Noise! Suffragettes in Film is an illuminating and funny compilation of 21 silent-era archival pieces from the BFI National Archive, showing women on film in the first decades of the 20th century. A project long in development at the BFI which was challenged at many points by the difficulties of getting the footage together, the highly entertaining result is a testament to the hard work of programmers Bryony Dixon and Margaret Deriaz. The collection screened at the London Film Festival and goes on release at the BFI from 23 October.
The footage of the Suffragettes brings home how a key tactic of their campaign was to ‘make more noise’ and to exploit the then-new technology of film. That meant making sure cameras were there to cover them at public meetings, in music halls and theatres, and demonstrating on the streets and in front of government buildings. Some of the images will strike a chord with those who recently watched Gavron’s film: one of Suffragette’s key scene involves a protest-turned-violent outside Parliament following a refusal by the government to amend the voting laws, a historical event briefly seen here in the old newsreels. There is also footage of Suffragette Emily Davison being knocked down and killed by the King’s horse on Derby Day, as well as the huge crowds that gathered for her funeral in Bloomsbury, London and burial in Morpeth, Northumberland.
Alternating with the Suffragette-focused material are several humour shorts which not only highlight some of the ways the women’s rights movement lent itself to various parodies and scare tactics (witness the extremely politically incorrect sketch of a husband dreaming of becoming PM and declaring Suffragette’s illegal) but also how women could playfully subvert society’s expectations of them in anarchic comedies. A particular treat are the demented hijinks of the Tilly girls duo (Alma Taylor and Chrissie White) a two-woman St Trinian’s who’s modus operandi involves exploding into a room, usually on a bicycle or horse, and knocking everything and everyone over with a cheeky smirk and a wave.