Up the Women – series 1 (2013)

TV series review: Up the Women, series 1 (BBC Four, 2013)

up_the_womenThe Banbury Intricate Crafts Circle are a group of women somewhere around the early 1900s who meet in a church hall once a week to do crafts.

Brainy, educated Margaret (Jessica Hynes) has just come back from London, where she came across a suffrage rally, and now, she wants to turn the crafts circle into a women’s suffrage group. She just needs to convince the other ladies about it too.

Dimwitted Gwen (Vicki Pepperdine) will do as she’s told, mum-of-14 Eva (Emma Pierson) isn’t sure her husband would like her doing such a thing, grandmother Myrtle (Judy Parfitt) thinks it’s a wonderful idea – especially if she can pinch a few male bottoms – and besides, it’s sure to spite her snobby daughter Helen (Rebecca Front). Helen’s daughter Emily (Georgia Groome), on the other hand, thinks they should demand women’s suffrage rather than “politely request” it.

Also starring Adrian Scarborough as church hall caretaker Frank, Ryan Sampson as Thomas, and in the final episode, Sandi Toksvig guest stars as Emmeline Pankhurst.

Three half-hour episodes tucked away on BBC Four means you might not get noticed, but this period comedy penned by Jessica Hynes has been noticed enough to be renewed. The period costumes are fabulous – I’m definitely having skirt envy – and the different women are funny in their own ways. Margaret is as clever as poor Gwen is slow, Myrtle is as free-spirited as Helen is uptight, and so on.

It might not be full of belly-laughs, at least not for me, but it’s certainly very amusing. Sandi Toksvig’s Suffragette martyr-to-be Pankhurst with her giant hat is particularly funny. If she’s anything near what the real Pankhurst was like, oh dear. If you’ve seen the show, you’ll know what I mean. If you haven’t, think Lord Farquaad in the first Shrek film, but female.

I kept thinking Thomas looked familiar, and I don’t just mean because he bears a certain resemblance to a younger (and shorter) Robert Downey Jr, and then I realised where I’d seen him. He’s the lazy slave Grumio in ITV2’s Plebs! The two characters look and sound completely different, so it wasn’t until I saw the actor’s name I connected the dots. Well played, sir!

As Up the Women has been renewed for a full second series (six episodes instead of just three), it will be interesting to see how the Banbury Intricate Crafts Circle Politely Requests Women’s Suffrage continue their struggle for female voting rights. Anyway, I think it’s a great way of bringing the Suffragette movement back into public consciousness, even if it’s done as a sitcom, because the struggle still carries on today. Not to give us the right to vote, but for our right to be paid the same as a man doing the same job, and for our right to be able to walk down the street at night without fearing sexual assault, and so on.

Well done, Jessica Hynes. You’ve made a very enjoyable history lesson here, even if the jokes aren’t exactly groundbreaking and the storylines predictable. It’s still well worth a watch.

4 out of 5 newfangled electric lightbulbs.

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