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The Song of the Shirt

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The Song of the Shirt

The plight of women in the 1840s London rag trade is explored and deconstructed in this multifaceted documentary

Drama-documentary 1979 129 mins

Director: Sue Clayton

Overview

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The plight of women in the 1840s London rag trade is explored and deconstructed. Informed by experimental film practice and evoking a serialised Victorian novel, this unusual film investigates the effects of protectionist ‘philanthropy’ in the sweatshop-style London clothes trade using contemporary text, archival material and reconstruction.

The piece takes its name from the 1843 poem written by Thomas Hood about a seamstress living in appalling conditions. Emma Hedditch notes that the many different groups involved in its production meant the film became "a subject of debate in itself", and that "while it still addresses ideas of feminist history and Marxist theory, it can also be read as a rather more ambitious project that fuses the history of fashion, literacy and sexuality."