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Topical Budget 255-1: Women Hay Makers (1916)


Main image of Topical Budget 255-1: Women Hay Makers (1916)
35mm, black and white, silent, 53 feet
Production CompanyTopical Film Company

During World War I, land girls make hay on an Essex farm.

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Early summer in the middle of the War, and time to get in the hay. In normal years, the entire village would turn out to help - children would be kept out of school; the women and men, young and old would all contribute in one way or another. Women had, of course, worked on the land for thousands of years, so the keen interest in wartime films of women working the fields without their menfolk cannot be explained by simple novelty. Perhaps women operating agricultural machinery may have been more unusual.

A more likely reason for the popularity of films like this one is the simple pleasure that they bring. They were shot with great care, in a style that had become familiar to film audiences, and portray a pastoral beauty that had more to do with pictorial traditions than with the detached reportage style one might associate with a newsreel. Compositions are carefully selected to take in the sweep of the landscape and to balance the figures working within it. Cuts and pans give some movement and show the horse-drawn mowers and rakes in elegant diagonals. No comment is made except in an introductory title card, which tells us that the landgirls are under the direction of the daughter-in-law of Field Marshal Sir Evelyn Wood, a well known and respected veteran of more or less every conflict involving the British Army since the Crimea.

The impression left by this calming little film is of continuity. Even in the chaos of a war that wasn't going to end anytime soon, the hay had to be got in. Old soldiers and aristocrats were looking after the great landed estates as they always had, and their daughters adopted their fathers' natural propensity to command. Strangely, for modern auduences, these same films are most often used to illustrate the precise opposite: that is, progress, the coming emancipation of women and the shattering of centuries of oppression.

Bryony Dixon

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Video Clips
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