Scrubbers: Working-Class Heroines of 1980s Cinema (Part 1)

This event has now ended. You can watch a recording of the discussion here.

The Cinema of Ideas celebrates the true heirs to Gracie Fields: the unforgettable working-class heroines who brought grit and glamour to 1980s women’s cinema. To begin, we’ll be screening Mai Zetterling’s Borstal ballad Scrubbers starring Amanda York and Chrissie Cotterill, which marked the screen debut of Kathy Burke, and has been unfairly overlooked as the distaff cousin of Alan Clarke’s prison-drama Scum. It’s a bold, unconventional and feminist film, laced with black humour, about a group of women torn between life inside and outside prison walls and confined by a system that is designed to punish rather than reform. It’s a modern melodrama and a must for fans of Orange is the New Black. To accompany the online screening, Susannah Buxton, who created the film’s costumes, will be in conversation with film historian and critic Pamela Hutchinson to discuss the making of and the impact of this astonishing film.

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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.

We would like to thank Pamela Hutchinson for programming this season of events for The Cinema of Ideas.

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Live Q&A with Susannah Buxton, writer and costume designer on Scrubbers
7pm, Wednesday 24 November

About Susannah Buxton

Susannah graduated with a degree in Graphic Design & Illustration before starting her career as a Scene Painter in the theatre. Following this, she was offered the role of Wardrobe Assistant on a Mary Queen of Scots project, which led her to fall in love with the craft of Costume Design. Over the years she has worked with a number of acclaimed figures in the film and TV industry, including Danny Boyle, Julian Fellowes, Joe Wright and Kenneth Branagh. She has consistently been recognised for her contributions, winning a BAFTA, an Emmy and two RTS Craft and Design Awards.

While her filmography is eclectic, Susannah has often been drawn to period pieces and has a particular passion for antique textiles. Scrubbers and Mr Wroe’s Virgins were amongst her earliest productions, and in later years she has been known for her work on Burton and Taylor – dressing stars Helena Bonham Carter and Dominic West as the eponymous couple – in addition to the much beloved Downton Abbey (series 1 and 2). Susannah’s most recent credits include the second season of Poldark, and TV Movie The Time of Their Lives, starring Joan and Pauline Collins.

Susannah currently lives in Bristol and is now focussed on giving back to the industry; she has been running the Costume Symposium UK event for the past few years, with the aim of encouraging specialist costume skills and inspiring the next generation of costume makers.

About Pamela Hutchinson

Pamela Hutchinson is a freelance writer, critic and film historian who contributes regularly to Sight & Soundthe GuardianEmpire, Criterion, Indicator and the BBC. She has written essays for several edited collections and is the author of the BFI Film Classic on Pandora’s Box and the editor of 30-Second Cinema (Ivy Press).

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