The Cinema of Ideas continues its celebration of the true heirs to Gracie Fields: the working-class heroines who brought grit and glamour to 1980s British women’s cinema, with a special Q&A screening of Cold War romance Letter to Brezhnev (1985).
Letter to Brezhnev, streaming 5-19 May
In this hilarious film, raucously scripted by Frank Clarke, two best friends hit Liverpool for a night out they will never forget: drinking, dancing and falling for two handsome Soviet sailors, off the boat for just a few hours. Margi Clarke’s Teresa burns up the screen with her red lipstick and bleached hair, but it is Elaine, played by Alexandra Pigg, who gambles on her heart, against all advice, to join her sailor in Ukraine. Letter to Brezhnev offers a frank depiction of 1980s Liverpool ravaged by unemployment, but also a tribute to the human instinct to find beauty in a dark place – and one of the greatest glow-ups in film history.
Live Q&A, 6-7pm Wednesday 18 May
To accompany this online screening, the film’s editor Lesley Walker and producer Janet Goddard will be in conversation with the season’s programmer, film historian and critic Pamela Hutchinson, to share their memories of making the film and its legacy today. A recording of the Q&A will be available to watch immediately after the event.
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The Working-Class Heroines of 1980s Cinema
Britain in the 1980s was officially a matriarchy: Margaret Thatcher was in No. 10, and Queen Elizabeth expanded her family with two new, soon-to-be notorious new princesses. But in the real Britain, at a time of mass unemployment and industrial decline, women were holding the country together at home, and burning up the screen. Margi Clarke, even brighter than her red lipstick and bleached hair in Letter to Brezhnev, and Kathy Burke and the “hellhole bitches” from Mai Zetterling’s prison drama Scrubbers, were joined by Cathy Tyson’s steely-eyed working girl in Mona Lisa, Pauline Collins’ heartsick housewife in Shirley Valentine, Lynda La Plante’s Widows and the passionate Julie Walters, whether seeking a better life through books in Educating Rita or berating her husband to “fight back, you bastard”, in The Boys from the Black Stuff. These are the true heirs to Gracie Fields: the unforgettable working-class heroines of the screen. Come celebrate the grit and glamour of 1980s women’s cinema.
Missed part one of the series? Watch a recording of our discussion with Scrubbers costume designer Susannah Buxton, who was in conversation with film historian and critic Pamela Hutchinson about the making of and the impact of Mai Zetterling’s astonishing film.
We would like to thank Pamela Hutchinson for programming this season of events for The Cinema of Ideas.
Letter to Brezhnev will be available to watch with closed captions, and the live Q&A on 18 May will be live-captioned.
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Letter to Brezhnev + Q&A with editor Lesley Walker and producer Janet Goddard
5 – 19 May 2022