Women in film was a hot topic in 2015, both behind and in front of the camera, and there’s no doubt that gender disparity remains a huge problem for the industry. This year has, however, seen a number of filmmakers create strong, memorable and diverse female characters, and I wrote the following piece in celebration of the best of them for the British Independent Film Awards ceremony brochure.
It is a universally held view, fuelled by stiff photographs and stilted archive footage, that early 20th century women were dour, passive and unable to crack so much as a smile through those stiff upper lips. The perception of suffragettes is generally no different, a group who campaigned for their right to vote through respectful discourse and peaceful protest.
In shadowy close-up, alone on a smoky club stage in 1960s New York City, the titular Mr Davis (Oscar Isaac) sings a plaintive version of Dave Van Ronk’s ‘Hang Me, Oh Hang Me’. Accompanied only by his guitar, his stunning voice soars over the melancholy lyrics, emotion etched into his face. It’s a haunting, intimate and powerful on-screen introduction, and effortlessly sets the scene for a remarkable film that is both amusing character study and profound treatise about unrealised ambition, the cruel nature of fate and the omnipresent possibility of failure.