Make More Noise! The Suffragettes in Silent Film review: ‘More jaunty than you might expect’

14:18 27 October 2015

Make More Noise. Picture: Courtesy of BFI

Make More Noise. Picture: Courtesy of BFI


This BFI-funded film is a comprehensive reflection of the changing position of women in society during the suffragette movement, says Michael Joyce.

With Suffragettemania sweeping the nation – the film, civil disobedience on the streets (spittle and egg yolk, still the only language the Tories understand) – the BFI is bandwagoning with this compilation of silent film footage recording or reflecting the suffragette struggle that is a bit more jaunty than you might expect.

The ironic title comes from a speech by Emmeline Pankhurst, but it’s not all Pankhursts, window smashing and mailbox arson. Indeed there’s very little direct footage of the suffragettes and what there is brief and often incidental. So you get to see the newsreel footage of the 1913 Derby but Emily Davison throwing herself beneath the King’s horse is only a passing incident in the coverage of the event. In the following clip, we get to see the masses attending her funeral.

Programmers Dixon and Deriaz spent 13 years in the dungeons of the BFI going through the thousands of hours of surviving footage looking for anything connected with the Suffragettes but it seems to have been a thankless task. There’s not much there and it isn’t that interesting.

What makes the project work is the material only tangentially linked with the movement, footage reflecting the position of women at the time. Towards the end there are two longish clips about women working in a munitions factory in Nottingham and a hospital in France funded and run by a women’s union during World War One. There are also quite a lot of comedy skits: some involve male comics caricaturing the movement, but others, such as the Tilly and Sally sequences, showcase women with an anarchic disregard for social convention. It all builds up into a comprehensive reflection of the changing position of women in society at the time.

Rating: 3/5 stars

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