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Women in Wartime by Michael Brooke
Introduction WWI WWII: Propaganda WWII: Newsreels WWII: Food Features: 1939-42
Features: 1943 Features: 1944-45 Gainsborough Women Filmmakers    

The First and Second World Wars broke new ground for many reasons, not least in the way that women made a far more direct contribution to the war effort. This originally came about through necessity, as the unforeseen carnage of WWI led to a drastic shortage of manpower at home, but when WWII broke out in 1939, the government led the drive to ensure that all able-bodied members of the British population were on hand to do their bit and were fully informed about the options open to them.

This tour examines the role that the film industry played both to encourage women to play an active role in war-related work and to reflect the entertainment demands of an largely female audience of unprecedented size. It will take in official government propaganda and newsreels before examining a small selection of feature films that reflected women’s participation in the war, whether portraits of army volunteers (The Gentle Sex), nurses (The Lamp Still Burns), factory workers (Millions Like Us) or internment camp inmates (Two Thousand Women), more philosophical reflections on the role of women in wartime (Waterloo Road, A Canterbury Tale) or lurid escapism that did its best not to mention the war at all (the notorious Gainsborough melodramas). Finally, it pays tribute to female filmmakers active during WWII, the tiny number and low-profile nature of their work (mostly in the documentary field) being a rueful acknowledgement that certain professions remained overwhelmingly male-dominated.

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Still from The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp