On Sunday I went along to the BFI to see Make More Noise: Suffragettes in Silent Film. This collection of short films – both newsreels and comic features – has been compiled and released to complement Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette, which is now on general release.
In fact many of the films were very familiar to me because some thirteen years ago I was commissioned by the BFI to produce a script for a DVD which would tell the history of the suffrage movement – 1866-1928 – through the use of images – both still and moving. The latter included many of the newsreels that you can now see in ‘Make More Noise’.
Alas, although I wrote the script and work had actually begun on recording the ‘voice over’, the DVD idea fell by the wayside as events (doubtless financial) took over.
‘Make More Noise’ includes:
newsreel of a 1909 suffrage procession in Newcastle
a mass meeting of National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in Trafalgar Square in 1910
the amazing scenes in Parliament Square on ‘Black Friday’ in November 1910
the Bolton Election in 1910, with a brief glimpse of suffragettes speaking to a crowd
George Lansbury fighting his by-election on a ‘Votes for Women’ ticket in November 1912
scenes outside the House of Commons, 28 January 1913
a film of the 1913 Derby, from a viewpoint completely new to me, showing the build-up to the race and then the sight of Emily Wilding Davison struck down
Emily Wilding’s funeral – both in Bloomsbury and the next day at Morpeth, 1913
Trafalgar Square Riot, showing Sylvia Pankhurst arrested, August 1913
Palace Pandemonium – Mrs Pankhurst at Buckingham Palace, May 1914
The Women’s Right to Work March Through London, 21 July 1915
A Day in the Life of a Munition Worker, 1917
A Scottish Women’s Hospital Unit at work abroad during the First World War
Founding of the Women’s Party, 10 November 1917
Interspersed with these factual reports ‘Make More Noise’ includes short comic feature films, the earliest dating from 1899, demonstrating various ‘takes’ on the public perception of the position of women. The most well-known of these is ‘Milling the Militants’.
On the one hand these films include the tropes depicted in the comic postcards of the time – woman, especially ‘women righters’ as nag and virago – but there are others that revel in bringing to the Edwardian screen pretty young women only too happy to enjoy hoydenish larks while creating mayhem around them.
I heartily recommend a viewing of ‘Make More Noise’ to anyone interested in the women’s suffrage movement
You can find an entry on suffrage films under ‘Film’ in my Women’s Suffrage Movement: a reference guide – pp 218-221.