Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Sex, God, Television, Realism, and the British Women Filmmakers Beeban Kidron and Antonia Bird

Academic journal article Journal of Film and Video

Sex, God, Television, Realism, and the British Women Filmmakers Beeban Kidron and Antonia Bird

Article excerpt

In 1995, a variety headline blared: "FEMME HELMERS BRIGHTEN BRIT Biz." The article, by Adam Dawtry, described how women filmmakers had been instrumental in revitalizing British cinema. Although the author states that "certainly few [women filmmakers] claim much interest in making films which self-consciously deal with `women's issues,' let alone engage in feminist polemics," he identifies some common themes: "There is an overwhelming preponderance of intimate emotional dramas or intense psychodramas, mostly with women as the protagonists but sometimes with gay men at the center. Sexuality and female friendships also loom large in their work" (5). While this characterization is reductive and falls into an essentialist mode of thinking (i.e., British men are repressed; women are more naturally emotionally expressive than men), British women directors have used melodrama strategically, have selectively appropriated and rewritten certain codes of realist filmmaking, and have explored a range of intimate relationships, especially in television-financed films.

It has been asserted that it is no longer possible for anyone professionally involved in British film to make a living without "occasional recourse" to television (Roddick 27).

This is especially true of women filmmakers. By providing access to modes of production, television has been a site and a training ground where women filmmakers in Britain have found creative opportunities, and many of their film/television projects deal with gender issues.

Directed by Beeban Kidron and Antonia Bird

This article focuses on the ground-breaking works made by Beeban Kidron and Antonia Bird for the BBC and the ways British television finds an audience-blurring the boundaries between the televisual and the cinematic-and engages a realist aesthetic. In addition, it examines the transition to Hollywood production modes, the versatility Kidron and Bird have maintained, and the vicissitudes they have endured to develop as filmmakers. Although Kidron and Bird are active on both sides of the Atlantic, their reputations and careers remain connected to Britain and television.

In particular, Kidron and Bird created two provocative British television projects of the 1990s: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1990) and Priest (1994). The television serial and television-financed film, respectively, create timely and powerfully charged lesbian/ gay-themed narratives. As theorists and activists have noted, "Representation in the mediated `reality' of mass culture is in itself power" (Out of the Mainstream 21). Oranges and Priest offer sympathetic images of underrepresented lesbian/gay subjects (i.e., a teenage girl, a Catholic priest); they also foreground religion, with its institutions and rules as a regulatory force. Religion as a visibly oppressive force functions both to problematize the narrative and to displace mechanisms of moral judgment. The politics of the representation of "family values" in these texts is also relevant. The British work by Kidron and Bird consistently calls into question any natural, unproblematic notion of family, while their Hollywood films both pathologize and sentimentalize the "dysfunctional" family.

In a link between the British New Wave "kitchen-sink" films, the narrative focus of Oranges and Priest (although interested in social issues as well) is clearly on the individual, particularly coming-of-age/comingout (or being outed) storylines. Oranges is Jess's story (widely read as screenwriter Jeanette Winterson's autobiography); Priest is the fictional Father Greg's.

The work of filmmakers like Kidron and Bird, who emerged into feature directing from British television, specifically the BBC, recognizes and expands the documentaryrealist tradition that, according to Andrew Higson, "came to inform both much [postwar British] commercial film-making practice" and is later "renewed" in '50s and '60s New Wave films and television documentary ("Britain's Outstanding Contribution" 72). …

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