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Shoulder To Shoulder (1974)


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!

'The Pankhursts', originally transmitted on BBC1, 3 April 1974
Written by Ken Taylor, directed by Waris Hussein

In July 1895, fights break out when the social reformer Robert Pankhurst fails to win a seat in the general election. His wife Emmeline is accosted in the street by drunken men who ridicule her progressive stance on rights for women. Robert often speaks to small crowds who are disinterested in his socialist beliefs. In 1898, Emmeline takes their eldest daughter Christabel on a trip to Geneva. While they are away, the second daughter, Sylvia, has to take care of Robert when he becomes ill. Sylvia has always been very close to her father and is acutely aware that Emmeline has always favoured Christabel. Sylvia is devastated when her father dies while Emmeline and Christabel are on holiday. Emmeline returns home and helps the family move to a smaller house while Christabel opts to continue her trip. Emmeline goes to work in a hat shop to help support the family. Sylvia discovers that her young brother Harry is being bullied at school due to the family's criticism of the Boer War. When Christabel returns from Europe, she claims to be bored by everything, unable to find a purpose in her life. Emmeline encourages her to go to university and soon Christabel finds that she has a talent for public speaking.

Emmeline becomes more and more involved in politics, especially after the election to Parliament of her Labour Party friend Keir Hardie in 1900. Christabel, Emmeline and Sylvia become incensed when they realise that the Labour Party won't publicly support women's suffrage for fear of alienating voters. Christabel and her close friend Eva Gore-Booth become increasingly militant in their views on the emancipation of women. Emmeline decides to set up her own party, one made up entirely of women. In 1903 she and a group of like-minded friends gather to agree on a plan of action. Emmeline is convinced that the only way to initiate change is to create trouble so that their voices will actually be heard. With the approval of Christabel, Emmeline names the group the 'Women's Social and Political Union'.

The Pankhursts' housekeeper, Ellen, is heavily pregnant and Sylvia decides to stay behind and help with the birth while Emmeline and Christabel decide to go to a political meeting. The birth is a difficult one and the baby is stillborn.