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Why period dramas are the feminist films we need

Period dramas are without a doubt my favourite movies of all time. I never quite knew why: if it was the costumes, the beautiful locations or the tragic stories that surrounded the characters. From a very young age, I was fascinated. I could lose myself for hours in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Somewhat intrigued by this obsessions I started to wonder, about the reasons behind it. And I think I found my answer: in every single one of my beloved films, is an incredibly strong woman.

Now it has to be said, that the treatment of women wasn’t particularly great in any of these films. Women have fought for their rights for centuries, and we are still fighting for equality, so it is safe to say that the situations these women lived in were far from good. However, such terrible living conditions resulted in some incredibly brave acts.

It is in these actions that we find inspiration for ourselves and our futures. Many of the women portrayed in these films, stood up for themselves and tried to change the system that failed them. Of course, many of these women were rich and white, but they were an important part of the building blocks for feminism as we know it today.


In The Duchess (2008) for example, Keira Knightley portrays Georgina, the Duchess of Devonshire, a woman forced into a marriage with a much older man. He mistreats her throughout their entire marriage, but she decides to take her happiness into her own hands and starts an affair with another man. She continuously tries to fight the double standards (her husband for example, has numerous affairs, all of which she is supposed to accept) and speaks out on politics and social issues, something a woman from her rank was not expected to do.

In Testament of Youth (2014) we see Vera Brittain (portrayed by Alicia Vikander), who recounts her experiences of World War I. She fights her parents to try and get an education at Oxford University, speaks out on her desire to not get married and refuses to succumb to society’s pressure on women. Later, she becomes a nurse on the front lines to try and get closer to her brother who is fighting. All of this is documented in her 1933 memoir, which became an international bestseller.

Belle (2013), on the other hand, shows a different perspective on women’s rights in the 18th century: that of a mixed-race woman. Dido Elizabeth Belle, played by Gugu Mbatha -Raw, born to a black mother and a white father, she is adopted by her great-uncle. Too dark to truly fit in with her family members, she suffers from issues and stigmas that seem to be attributed to her alone, as there were hardly any dark-skinned women in a position like hers. Throughout the film, she fights not only for women’s rights but for black people’s rights as well. Standing up for what is right and defending her honour to anyone who might mistreat her; she is a true example of what a feminist is.

When I watch any of these films, I not only dream of a different time, I also dream of the times to come. Each and every one of these women – all of them based on real people – have made small and big changes alike in their societies and they stood up for what was wrong. It makes us realise that no matter what, we have to do the same. Because someday, in many years, it will show how much of a difference it really made.

Image 1: DJ Films
Image 2: via


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