I’ve been catching up on strong women in history movies of late, women I had heard of or only had rudimentary knowledge of but now I feel I know a little better. Of course I don’t see these movies as documentaries but they did give a nice little deepdive into who they were.
I started with On the Basis of Sex about supreme court judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg (played by Felicity Jones) before she became a judge. It followed her early career and her groundbreaking win in a case where she argued to not discriminate against a man as a carer for his ailing mother on the basis of his sex. That laid the goundwork for later equal women’s rights laws. I also love how Ruth’s marriage is portrayed here, a real partnership between two equals, the way (for me) that a marriage should be, a give and take in equality.
I love how this is not about a superhero female lawyer but that it’s about a woman who quietly fights for justice in her own unique way. I know Felicity Jones is not for everyone but I have really liked her since I first saw her in Northanger Abbey quite a few years ago and she doesn’t disappoint here either.
Hannah Arendt focuses on (not surprisingly) Hannah Arendt as she follows the trial of Adolf Eichman, leading her to coin the famous term ‘the banality of evil’. It was a good and thought provoking film with a great performance by German actress Barbara Sukowa but it was also a very slow moving and sometimes tedious to get through story. Either that or I watched it too late at night when I was too tired to follow all of the thoughts laid out in the film, which meant I felt my eyes drooping on occasion. Even though it was slow, the movie did stick with me for a little while so I think I need to watch this one again, when I am feeling more alert.
I like that this is not about a woman battling and fighting for a place in a man’s world, it’s a movie about a strong and already respected woman in her own right who lives life on her own terms, a political theorist (I understand she didn’t see herself as a philosopher) trying to make sense of the evils of the Holocaust. It’s well worth a watch (even if a tad slow).
Harriet is about the life of Harriet Tubman, who in the mid 1800s escaped slavery in Maryland and went on to free 70 more slaves from the southern plantations after that. I know very little about Tubman and I really liked this movie which gave me more of an insight into who she had been. Cynthia Erivo was truly remarkable as Minty aka Harriet, I was surprised when afterwards I found out that Erivo is actually a British actress, she was so good!
The story was dramatically well told, Harriet was a strong and very determined character who wouldn’t let anyone sway her from her path. The music was good too, especially the spirituals in it made me want to listen to the soundtrack. I don’t get that urge often when I watch a movie.
Cynthia Erivo sings herself, what a gorgeous voice she has. The song “Stand up” that she co-wrote was nominated for an Oscar but lost out to Elton John…
I then saw Big Eyes, about painter Margaret Keane (played by Amy Adams, I watched the movie because of her), another woman I knew nothing about. She painted the famous big eyes paintings in the 1960s that were also turned into countless posters and postcards. Her husband (played by Christoph Waltz) marketed and took credit for all her work for many years and she let him out of fear.
It is depressing to see her become isolated from others, caught in a restricted world alone with her husband and lying to her daughter (from her first marriage). It is then a relief to see her subsequently emerge and come into her own at the end. I had no idea about any of this, so it was an interesting watch for me.
As usual, Amy Adams is brilliant in this, can someone please finally give her that Oscar?
Last but not least, I watched Misbehaviour, a movie about the 1970 Miss World competition, held in London, hosted by a quite sexist Bob Hope. Claiming that beauty competitions demeaned women, the newly formed Women’s Liberation Movement achieved overnight fame by invading the stage of the Miss World show. At the same time, that show also became the first time a black woman from South Africa was allowed to compete and the first time a black woman (from Grenada) won.
Keira Knightley, Jessie Buckley and Gugu Mbatha-Raw starred in this movie (I especially love the latter two although Keira is really good in this one too), alongside a few other good names (Rhys Ifans, Keeley Hawes, Leslie Manville, Greg Kinnear). I like how this movie shows the point of view of the protesters as well as of the contestants, especially the two black women who use the competition to try and find emancipation. There is a conversation after the contest between the winner Jennifer Hosten (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) and protester Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley) in the bathroom, both discussing their points of view and I just wish that scene had lasted longer. I enjoyed this movie too.
All of these movies are well worth seeing but my fave of these have been Harriet and On the Basis of Sex, the latter even leading me to watch the 2018 documentary RBG, which gave a fascinating insight into Ruth Bader Ginsburg. These are ‘just’ movies, so by nature dramatized and maybe not 100% accurate in the stories they tell, but I do love them and how they bring these stories to the awareness of people today. We’ve come a long way in many things but these movies also remind me that we have a way to go yet as we still fight many battles today against racism and sexism.