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Question of Choice, A (1982)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Women in overalls mop the floor of a large school dining room. A younger woman wipes tables, complaining that, as a married woman with children, it is hard to do the things she wants to do. Another woman, sweeping a filthy floor, describes how she failed her nursing exam, then got married. Another woman in a white uniform slices meat and describes how lucky she was to get the job.

Titles introduce the participants and their occupations: Margaret Stevenson, cleaner; Hazel Parsons, cleaner; Brenda Leesly, lollipop lady; Ken Hunter, caretaker; Isobel Wardle, school meals cook.

Margaret Stevenson walks her children through a quiet street and meets friends; she describes juggling work and having children. A group of children cross the street, guided by Brenda Leesly. The children stop to speak with Brenda. Margaret explains how convenient the school is in terms of location and the hours of work.

Ken Hunter passes. He describes how he prefers to work with women - they are more adaptable and easier to instruct. (We see a woman cleaning toilets.)

Two of the women kneel on the floor of a large hall, scraping the floor. Meanwhile, Ken talks about new techniques for cleaning. The women smile at the camera. In the school kitchen, Isobel prepares the meals. She describes her working hours and her family routine.

A series of still images of Margaret Stevenson at home with her children. Dressing them, she explains how for women the family can mean a full stop in their career. She talks of being unhappy stuck with the children all the time.

Hazel cleans the floor; she explains how she met Ken and was desperate for a job. She earns £25 per week. The women mop the floors and steps and take out rubbish. In the kitchen, Isobel prepares the meals en masse; the canteen opens and the children arrive.

Hazel, making the beds at home, describes that she is in her second marriage, and that her husband insists that she must do something for herself. Her first husband left her with debts. She acknowledges that many other women are in the same position as her.

An outdoor party is in full swing, with DJs and children playing party games and dancing the conga. Children eat cakes and run races; the women organise.

Margaret carries her shopping; she explains why she likes being part of the community, how the world is not really looking after children's education and how, as individuals, we should take responsibility. In the local community centre, Margaret sits with a group of children playing a game. She explains how she has to organise her life, to coordinate everything.

Isobel cleans the kitchen equipment. She talks about being in a trade union; many of the women can't attend meetings because they have children. Two women carry mats into the large hall; Ken explains that the women are all in the GMWU. He says the women tend to come to him if there is a problem, rather than going to the Union. Margaret explains that they don't pay National Insurance stamps because they don't earn enough money. Hazel describes how she feels useless, how, though her husband tries to reassure her, she still feels she is not doing the work that she wants to.