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Suffragettes on Film

"You have to make more noise than anybody else!," cried Suffragette pioneer Emmeline Pankhurst. But how to make more noise in silent film?

"Make more Noise!" was the rallying cry of Emmeline Pankhurst to the campaigners for women's votes. The suffragettes' strategy was simple but clever - the idea was to stand up at every public meeting or gathering and cry "votes for women!". But how do you make more noise in silent film?

In an age when the moving image was beginning to really matter, the suffragettes had to make sure that they were not just heard, but seen. The newsreels were noticeably more neutral in their reporting than the print media. So newsreel cameramen were invited to all the big demonstrations and given privileged vantage points, while banners and placards were carefully placed for the cameras.

The first ever representation of a suffragette in a British film was in 1899, in a comedy where a pair of gossipy old women (played by men in drag) are the object of male ridicule. By 1913, the outrageous satire Milling the Militants again uses a suffragette as a stock comic character, but to more ambiguous effect. It was the licence allowed by comedy that freed film's female characters, like the delightfully modern Tilly girls, to make one hell of a noise.

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Suffragettes on Film

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