Films About Women 32

1 The Duchess

Keira Knightly, in the special features, lamented how difficult it is to find great roles for women. It is no surprise then, why she was drawn to the story of The Duchess. The film tells the story of one of Princess Diana’s ancestors, The Duchess of Devonshire. She married one of the most powerful men in England, but her marriage was not a happy one. Nonetheless, she finds her own way to make the most of her situation, and in the process, become a fashion icon and an 18th century celebrity.

The clothing in this film is amazing. I was also very impressed with Keira Knightly’s performance in this film. She realizes that this role is a tremendous opportunity and she relishes it. Moreover, Ralph Finnes is also excellent in the role as her husband. He brings a surprising amount of sympathy to this character who is, at the heart, a bad person. Or is he? He treats his wife horribly, no better than one of his dogs, as his wife bravely proclaims. However, is he really any different than any other wealthy husband at the time? I’m not so sure. Either way, see the film and decide.

2 It

I am so thrilled, at long last, to feature another silent film. It stars Clara Bow, one of the biggest stars and sex symbols of her era. She stars as a counter girl at the department store who becomes involved with a wealthy man. In this early screwball romantic comedy, misunderstandings emerge, disasters ensue, but all ends as it should.

Annex - Bow, Clara (IT)_01

Clara Bow’s own personal story did not end so happily. She was one of the many stars who could not make the transition to talkies, though she did star in several talkie films. Eventually, she began to suffer from mental illness and attempted suicide. She was placed in a psychiatric ward and, upon release, became a virtual shut in before dying of a heart attack at age 60. However, long before that, there was a film called It, which earned Clara Bow the title of “The It Girl.”

3 Gorillas in the Mist

This film is on my list for two very different reasons. This film tells the story of Dian Fossey, a woman who studied a troop of mountain gorillas in Rwanda. She originally had no training in anthropology or zoology, but she convinces an anthropologist to take a chance on her. As she studies the gorillas, she grows attached to them and concerned for their safety. This concern becomes an obsession and places her in an antagonistic position with the locals.


I am sharing this film for two reasons. One reason is that Sigourney Weaver is wonderful in this film. The second reason is that, while I support wildlife conservation, I find Dian Fossey’s actions deeply troubling. Perhaps I view the Rwandans differently, knowing that 6 years after this film was released, the Rwandan genocide would begin. I see that the gorilla trade exists within a fragile nation and wonder how the problems of the nation affect this trade. Moreover, Dian Fossey, a white woman coming to Rwanda and punishing the locals, seems to be a new kind of imperialism. I hope that as people watch this film, we might be able to encourage Africans to manage their resources responsibly without descending into paternalism (if this is possible) and whether Western influence in Africa is conducive or corrosive to wildlife.

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