Thursday, 30 May 2013

Up The Women

Up The Women the new three part sitcom from BBC4 will go down in history. Specifically because it was the last sitcom to be performed in front of a live studio audience at the now defunct Television Centre, Shepherds Bush.

But for my money the debut episode tonight hinted at another possible history, for it showed a great deal of promise and could may well become a first class largely female ensemble sitcom in the Dad's Army or Blackadder mould, specifically in the way it depicts good intelligent humour with interesting historical fact.

It's written by its star, Jessica Hynes (nee Stevenson) the former star and writer of Spaced and who most recently wowed us with a brilliant comic performance as the vapid PR guru in the Olympics spoof Twenty Twelve. It was a turn that deserved awards, but sadly they were not forthcoming. Indeed I always feel Hynes never seems to get the recognition she actually deserves. It was frankly criminal that Simon Pegg rode the crest of a geekdom wave Stateside into big Hollywood blockbusters as 'the man behind Spaced' whilst Hynes was largely ignored and almost considered little more than a co-star and not an equal creator of the genius sitcom. Who knows, perhaps this unintentional disinterest in her talents as a female helped shape this sitcom, which details a women's craft circle and their growing interest in the burgeoning Suffragette movement?

I've long since felt the Suffragette movement a rich and fascinating chapter in our history that is all too often overlooked and this series looks set to rectify matters. It cannily depicts the fact that not all women wanted the vote - one character played by Rebecca Front is dead against it, although that may be more due to the fact that she didn't consider linking the group to the movement first - places us into a situation where women were told that they were 'too weak' to vote as well as hints that such 'silly old sexism' that these maidens face is sadly still with us to this day. But in navigating the subject matter with a warmly quaint, snug air (much like Dad's Army did with WWII or Blackadder Goes Forth did for WWI) it allows the more weighty serious fact and ridiculous chauvinist mindset and propaganda to slip through almost as if under the wire. The Suffragette movement isn't something to laugh at after all; it was a serious political revolution to combat the outrageous institutionalised inequality of the day, a nation where women were kept in place as second class citizens for economic purposes, allowing cheap or free labour to prosper.It was a dark chapter in history, one in which names like Emily Davison and the plot to assassinate Prime Minister Asquith are skirted over, but the reasons for them are skirted over even more, even to this day.

Hynes brings together an impressive cast of familiar faces at the top of their game; the aforementioned Front from The Thick Of It plays Hynes' nemesis in the group, a woman who feels her nose is put out of joint by the attention from her sudden political interest, a virtually unrecognisable buck toothed Vicki Pepperdine from Getting On and Judy Parfitt from Call The Midwife. There's also the exceptionally pretty Emma Pierson as a girl with more children than sense and Adrian Scarborough as the unintentionally patronising caretaker.

The first episode wasn't laugh out loud fair but it did make for regular chuckles and wry smiles with its mix of somewhat wordy, literate and mature humour with good old fashioned sight gags. It was performed beautifully as a team effort and the sets at TV Centre where clearly lovingly put together and properly excellent. This is an empowering and educational programme in what I feel is currently an oasis of good female role models on TV (because apart from Scandinavian drama, Olivia Colman in the recent Broadchurch and Gillian Anderson in BBC2's The Fall, currently on Mondays at 9pm, women are depicted as little more than catty backstabbing ignorant self gratifying harpies who change their tune with the wind in the name of the dying throes of 'girl power', itself a male marketing ploy) and as such, I'll definitely be tuning in next week.

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