This Friday sees the release of Made In Dagenham, a film by Calendar Girls director Nigel Cole and very much in the same vein as that 2003 comedy, with all the good old fashioned British humour and girl power you can stomach. Following the true story of the women upholsterers who walked out of their jobs at the Dagenham Ford car plant in 1968, the flick sees Rita O’Grady – played by Sally Hawkins on top form – lead the uprising and prove her detractors wrong. With girl-power the phrase on movie-goers’ lips, we got thinking about our favourite feminist movies. So, here’s our run-down of the top ten flicks in which girls show the boys how it’s done… (By the way, if you’re wondering why the seminal Spice World isn’t up there, it’s because we wanted to give the other films a chance.)
A fresh-faced Julia Roberts came to the world’s attention in this 1989 drama about a group of women who hang around a beauty parlour in Louisiana. Its feminist factor comes not from the characters’ fabulous hair, the presence of the remarkable Dolly Parton, or even the girls’ strength in the face of considerable adversity. No, what makes these women feminist icons is the fact that they’re just so darn nice to each other. It’s not often we get to see women on film who aren’t pulling each other’s hair, or sleeping with one other’s husbands and despite a couple of them being a bit grouchy at times, these women get on like a house on fire and support each other through the hard times. And we think that’s just lovely.
The subject of Frida – the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo – is a disabled, bisexual, Trotskyist. In fact, she’s such a big fan of Leon Trotsky that she has an affair with him while he’s staying in her house. The fact that Trotsky’s wife is also staying in the house perhaps renders Frida’s actions slightly unsisterly, but she’s a pretty powerful woman all the same, overcoming a childhood accident that left her in lifelong pain to become one of the world’s most respected artists. Most importantly, with that famous monobrow and more than a hint of a moustache, Frida has that most crucial of feminist attributes: facial hair.
Now here’s a female protagonist who didn’t quite take to the damsel in distress role. As Warrant Officer Ripley, Sigourney Weaver shows the boys how it’s done, rescuing herself and just about everyone else (including a cat) from some rather unsavoury extra-terrestrials. Making the lead character a woman in any science fiction film is a pretty big deal, but in 1979 it was borderline ground-breaking and Weaver did women proud as she proved once and for all that they can do more than cry, breed and make sandwiches.
Wacky Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar is well-known for his female-centric movies, but All About My Mother (Todo Sobre Mi Madre in Spanish) takes things to a new level, with an ambitiously complex plot involving transsexual prostitutes, drug addicted actresses and a pregnant nun. Naturally. With barely a single significant male character amongst them, these women deal with disease and destitution with grace and a sense of humour.
Perhaps it’s a little sad that this 1997 Tarantino flick is considered by many to be a feminist movie mainly because its lead is a woman. However, we reckon there’s more to the film than that. Jackie Brown is one smart cookie and she manages to emerge unscathed from a number of attempts on her life. A brave woman in a decidedly dodgy man’s underworld, Jackie outwits practically everyone and makes off with a massive wad of cash at the end of the movie.
With an all-star cast including brilliant leading ladies like Julia Roberts, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Kirsten Dunst and Julia Stiles, Mona Lisa Smile was bound to have at least a few feminist undertones. In fact, the often overlooked 2003 film is something of a girl-power magnum opus. The film follows the story of Roberts’ 1950s art professor who tries to teach her bright female students that they don’t have to conform what society expects of them as women. Using the works of then-radical artists like Picasso and Jackson Pollock to bring the point home, she manages to persuade a few of them that life isn’t all about settling down and popping a few kids out. Yes, it’s all a little predictable and the smush factor is sky-high at points, but it’s hard to deny that Mona Lisa Smile has a pretty good message.
Sharing the same name as the first woman on Earth (allegedly), actress Eve sets out to climb to the top of the Broadway ladder using feminine wiles and betrayal as her tools. Admittedly, it’s not the best example to be setting for young women, but there’s something admirable about Eve Harrington’s ruthless drive and ambition. Still the only film in history to receive four female acting Oscar nominations, All About Eve has gone down in American cinematic legend as a razor-sharp satire on the 1940s show business industry and a top-notch portrayal of a smart woman who knows what she wants.
How could we forget this 1991 classic? Watching Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis ride across America, dancing, drinking and having sexual reawakenings along the way, it’s hard not to be inspired by these two icons of strong womanhood. Yes, they have a few bumps and scrapes along the way and we can’t advocate killing people (even if they are would-be rapists), but ultimately, these girls score big points for having intimate relations with Brad Pitt. That’s one small notch on the bedpost for Thelma and one giant leap for womankind. That sound you hear, by the way, is Emmeline Pankhurst rolling in her grave.
Oh good Lord, it’s Julia Roberts again. Storming in at number 2 in this Oscar-winning performance as an unemployed single mother who takes on an evil energy provider that has contaminated the water supply of a rural town, Julia shows the men how it’s done. She forces her way into a law practice, interrogates strange men in bars (ooer) and then secures a stonking great payout for the disease-ridden residents of Hinkley. With three entries in our count-down, Roberts is clearly a feminist icon (?!) but what we love about her in Erin Brockovich is that her particular brand of girl-power appears to consist of profanities, motorbikes and cleavage.
The Queen has all the ingredients that make up the perfect woman: she’s resilient, dignified, she has a great relationship with her (Queen)mother and her handbag always matches her hat. In Stephen Frears’ 2006 Oscar-winner, Helen Mirren wears the crown and shows us the royal reaction during the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death. Whether or not the film sticks closely to what actually happened is debatable, but either way the Queen portrayed by Mirren here is a formidable force, standing her ground when it looks like the whole country is against her. Best of all, she puts Tony Blair in his place. Now there’s a woman we can all admire.