CINEMA of IDEAS

Scrubbers: Working-Class Heroines of 1980s Cinema (Part 1)

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- Scrubbers, streaming 18 November - 2 December 2021

- Live online Q&A with Susanna Buxton, 24 November 2021


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The Cinema of Ideas celebrates the true heirs to Gracie Fields: the unforgettable working-class heroines who brought grit and glamour to 1980s women’s cinema. To begin, we’ll be screening Mai Zetterling’s Borstal ballad Scrubbers starring Amanda York and Chrissie Cotterill, which marked the screen debut of Kathy Burke, and has been unfairly overlooked as the distaff cousin of Alan Clarke’s prison-drama Scum. It’s a bold, unconventional and feminist film, laced with black humour, about a group of women torn between life inside and outside prison walls and confined by a system that is designed to punish rather than reform. It’s a modern melodrama and a must for fans of Orange is the New Black. To accompany the online screening, Susannah Buxton, who created the film’s costumes, will be in conversation with  film historian and critic Pamela Hutchinson to discuss the making of and the impact of this astonishing film.


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The Working-Class Heroines of 1980s Cinema


Britain in the 1980s was officially a matriarchy: Margaret Thatcher was in No. 10, and Queen Elizabeth expanded her family with two new, soon-to-be notorious new princesses. But in the real Britain, at a time of mass unemployment and industrial decline, women were holding the country together at home, and burning up the screen. Margi Clarke, even brighter than her red lipstick and bleached hair in Letter to Brezhnev, and Kathy Burke and the “hellhole bitches” from Mai Zetterling’s prison drama Scrubbers, were joined by Cathy Tyson’s steely-eyed working girl in Mona Lisa, Pauline Collins’ heartsick housewife in Shirley Valentine, Lynda La Plante’s Widows and the passionate Julie Walters, whether seeking a better life through books in Educating Rita or berating her husband to “fight back, you bastard”, in The Boys from the Black Stuff. These are the true heirs to Gracie Fields: the unforgettable working-class heroines of the screen. Come celebrate the grit and glamour of 1980s women’s cinema.


We would like to thank Pamela Hutchinson for programming this season of events for The Cinema of Ideas.


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  • Year
    1982
  • Runtime
    90 minutes
  • Language
    English
  • Country
    United Kingdom
  • Director
    Mai Zetterling
  • Screenwriter
    Susannah Buxton, Roy Minton, Jeremy Watt, Mai Zetterling
  • Producer
    Don Boyd, David Barber, Jilly Gutteridge
  • Executive Producer
    George Harrison, Denis O'Brien
  • Cast
    Amanda York, Chrissie Cotterill, Kathy Burke
  • Cinematographer
    Ernest Vincze
  • Editor
    Rodney Holland
  • Music
    Michael Hurd