International Women’s Day 2017

How is it March already?? Well, here we are, and here are some female driven film and literary things that have caught my attention.

The 2017 Bailey’s Prize longlist has been announced – an intriguing lineup here as always.

IMDB, quite probably the largest source of movie and TV information, has adopted the F-rating: a rating to show if films are written by women, directed by women, and/or feature women on screen in their own right. Admittedly, as this article points out, the rating isn’t featured on every film page, instead you can use their search tool to find movies that meet one or more of these criteria. I’m willing to give it time though, for this to be adopted fully on individual pages.

A shoutout to Scottish writers Claire MacLeary and Clio Gray, who I saw at an event during Aberdeen’s recent Granite Noir festival. Their books sound very interesting indeed, and are at the top of my list for upcoming reads. Claire MacLeary’s debut novel is Cross Purpose, set in Aberdeen City. Clio Gray, on the other hand, is a veteran writer (longlisted for the Bailey’s Prize last year), and her new three-part series begins with Deadly Prospects.

Meanwhile, I’ve been reading the Chronicles of St Mary’s series, by Jodi Taylor. It’s about historians who study historic events in ‘contemporary time’, i.e. through time travel. It’s got some dark bits, but overall it’s fairly light reading and good fun. I’d say it’s almost like a boarding school series, but featuring the staff.

The little things matter as much as the big things when it comes to changing the world. So let’s be proud of ‘little’ things like celebrating female authors and filmmakers, and equally let’s not be shy about ‘making a fuss’ when something’s not right. This year’s International Women’s Day theme, Be Bold for Change, is a good reminder of that.

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Skyfall

Yesterday we went to watch the new Bond film, and it was Very Good! The new Daniel Craig ones have been a change from the old audacious, bionic Bonds with come hither looks and obvious one-liners (even the Pierce Brosnan ones), and I guess that’s a reflection of what today’s audience wants. We want super-spies who aren’t ridiculously invincible, who are capable of humour without being cheesy, and we seem to have had enough of Mishter Bond’s sexist and patronising treatment of women as well.

Aside from Judi Dench’s brilliant performances as a strong but human leader (as opposed to a stereotypical battleaxe), it’s nice to see the Bond girls in the last few films being portrayed more as Bond Women. Previously the girls were mostly one-dimensional female things that Bond sleeps with to gain information (“baddy” girls), or they’ve been good little sidekicks and he sleeps with them just because he can (“goodie” girls). These days the goodie and baddy female characters are more complex and the Bond girls are almost equally as powerful as Bond – almost, as he’s still the star of the show of course, his name being the title and all that. Also, I get the feeling that his attraction to (and of course sleeping with) them has been more about the individual characters and their intelligence, self-assuredness, and sensuality, as opposed to their being female in general, with buxom, fawning/vampy (delete as appropriate), ‘hot girl in a tight dress’ qualities. Skyfall also appears to pass the Bechdel test, only just, but I’ll take just passing over outright failing – or as Jane Martinson puts it, “a sexy Bond with just a bit of the sexist left out.”

As for the story itself, this one seemed very much set in the real world, and it also felt more “personal,” as we find out a little more about some of the characters’ back stories. Javier Bardem also makes a villainous villain, while there is a new Q for Bond to meet. There are no exploding pens, but there is a mix of classic and very 21st century gadgets in use. As expected there are great locations, brilliant chase scenes, and plenty of firepower, while Adele takes the theme song back to the classic soulful style that I love. For me, Skyfall’s brilliance is in the way it celebrates 50 glorious years, while bringing us into a whole new era of Bond.

Jane Eyre

2010-09-10 Catterline 1

'Rugged Northern Scotland'

I went to see the new Jane Eyre yesterday, and really enjoyed it. The story itself is of course great, and Mia Wasikowska made a fantastic Jane. Quietly strong, subtly passionate, independent, calm, and yet having that slight vulnerability and innocence of someone who has been held down all her life, Mia elegantly brings out all the traits that make Jane Eyre one of the great characters of literature, and of feminism.

Michael Fassbender was an excellent Mr. Rochester as well. I thought the age difference between him and Mia might’ve been too much (he is supposed to be older, but I thought it would be too ‘obvious’ on screen), but they were actually really well matched. On the other hand, my friends and I agreed that Jamie Bell, while a good actor, wasn’t our ideal casting choice for St John Rivers. Although Jane is young (only 19), she is very mature, and next to her Jamie Bell just seemed a little too much of a child and not quite believable in this role. I guess there was a desire to really emphasise the opposites between Mr Rochester and Mr Rivers, but I feel that someone like James McAvoy or Tom Hardy would’ve been better suited for it.

The scenery is impressive as well; vast countryside both harsh and beautiful, and Thornfield Hall in all its Gothic glory. I’ve not seen any other version of Jane Eyre so I can’t compare, but I think this film certainly captures the essence of the book. Apart from the casting of Jamie Bell, it doesn’t appear to ‘overdo’ anything else (for example Blanche Ingram could’ve been quite a cow, but she wasn’t unnecessarily so). A good watch whether or not you’ve read the book, and I’m definitely looking forward to more Mia Wasikowska films.

As an additional thought, I’ve never read Wuthering Heights, but I recently saw it, and after seeing Jane Eyre the similarities between the two Brontë sisters’ stories really struck me. It’s not just in the physical landscape of ‘rugged Northern England,’ but also in the idea that hardship is often a great part of love. What differentiates the various characters is how they express their passions – aggressively, submissively, or subtly like Jane – and also how they overcome or succumb to hardship. It would be easy to say that the antagonists express their love and passion aggressively and succumb to their hardship while the protagonists do the opposite, but that would be oversimplifying things and taking away from the complex characters. It seems like the Brontë sisters preferred not to dwell on idealised love, but wrote on real love and everything that comes with it in real life, which is as relevant in the 1800s as it is today.