I’m excited about this week because I get to feature a number of historical films. This ranges from battle during Roman times to labor rights of the 1930s and women spies during World War 2.
This last is something I’ve long wanted to see more films take on. We’re at the point where we’re making up soldiers and battles from World War 2 to make movies about it, yet we’ve barely scratched the surface of the real contribution of women spies who have some of the most harrowing and heroic tales from that era.
Two quick notes on other films/series from women that you might like:
This article covers what’s coming out through Oct. 23. I will mention that “Emma.” is out Oct. 24 on HBO. The adaptation of the Jane Austen novel is the last film I got to see in theaters before the pandemic. It is exceptionally clever in its storytelling and design. Director Autumn de Wilde knocked it out of the park, and I enjoyed the hell out of it.
In addition, the second part of “The Spanish Princess” started arriving last week. It’s debuting in weekly installments on Starz. This makes up the final 8 of the series’ 16 episodes. It’s co-showrun by Emma Frost. In addition, 14 of those 16 episodes are directed by women, including all 8 of the new episodes.
mostly directed by Barbara Eder
“Barbarians” retells the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, where Germanic tribes allied to fight invading Roman legions. The broad details of the plot are at least accurate. Arminius was a prince of the Germanic Cherusci tribe. He was held hostage by Rome before being drafted into their military and granted Roman citizenship. He served Rome in the Illyrian Revolt (which was fought on the Adriatic Coast from Greece north to Slovenia).
Rome decided to then put Arminius in charge of military advising for a governor of Germania. Rome didn’t always make the best decisions. Arminius used his position to plot a revolt against Rome which required bringing together the various tribes of Germany. Depending on how it’s done, the series could have legs – this alliance engaged in a number of later battles against Rome while taking breaks in between to infight over who should be in charge of it.
Barbara Eder directs four of the six episodes. She’s a director of German film and TV.
You can watch “Barbarians” on Netflix with a subscription.
Radium Girls (VOD)
directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher, Ginny Mohler
In the 1920s and 30s, the United States Radium Corporation employed young women to paint watch dials with radium. They were instructed to point the brushes on their lips – this created a tip for such fine painting work. It also resulted in women ingesting large amounts of radium. The corporation told them that the paint and the radium within it were harmless. There’s only one problem:
Radium is radioactive. Why use it? It made the watch dials glow. As their employee’s skeletons disintegrated from bone cancer, U.S. Radium denied and hid growing proof that radium was harmful. When women died, the corporation paid off coroners to declare that the cause of death was syphilis, thereby smearing the reputations of some of the women who stood against them.
The Radium Girls had a desperate time getting anyone to listen, prying research from out of U.S. Radium’s hands, and even finding a lawyer who was willing to take on the corporation. Eventually, they took U.S. Radium to court.
The Radium Girls stand as one of the most important moments in the history of U.S. labor rights. They established the right of individual workers to sue corporations. After the 1938 case, watch and clock makers stopped using radium…by the 1970s.
Lydia Dean Pilcher is longtime producer whose projects include “The Darjeeling Limited” and “Queen of Katwe”. This is her second film as director, and first non-documentary film.
Ginny Mohler joins her as director. This is her first film with that title, and she also wrote the screenplay with Brittany Shaw.
Film composing can be a boys club where women don’t often get hired, so it’s also of note that Lillie Rebecca McDonough composed the music for “Radium Girls”.
You can rent “Radium Girls” on the film’s website right here.
A Call to Spy (VOD)
directed by Lydia Dean Pilcher
In researching “Radium Girls”, I realized director Lydia Dean Pilcher’s follow-up film, “A Call to Spy”, had already been released earlier this month. It’s about spy recruiter Vera Atkins and two of the most important Allied spies of World War 2: Virginia Hall and Noor Inayat Khan.
Virginia Hall had previously tried to become a diplomat, but the U.S. Department of State held a rule against hiring people with disabilities. You see, Hall had a wooden leg from a hunting accident years prior. Britain’s Special Operations Executive would hire her on instead. Hall would go on to work in Nazi-occupied France, orchestrate a prison break, and escape as Nazis closed in by walking 50 miles in two days over the Pyrenees mountain range. Nazi Germany considered her the Allies’ single most dangerous spy.
Noor Inayat Khan was a Muslim woman who became an operator in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. She would become the first woman sent to Nazi-occupied territory as a radio operator. This was considered the most dangerous job for a spy, since it was fairly easy for Germans to detect and quickly zero in on a radio operator. After initial success, she would be captured and executed at the Dachau concentration camp.
This is Pilcher’s third film, though it was released slightly previous to “Radium Girls”. Sarah Megan Thomas writes the screenplay and stars as Virginia Hall. Lillie Rebecca McDonough reprises her role as composer for “A Call to Spy”.
See where to rent “A Call to Spy” via streaming right here.
On the Rocks (Apple TV)
directed by Sofia Coppola
“On the Rocks” stars Rashida Jones as a woman who worries that her husband may be having an affair. This worry is brought on by reconnecting with her playboy father, played by Bill Murray.
Sofia Coppola writes and directs. She started out as an actress and was heavily criticized for her early role in her father’s “The Godfather: Part III”. She started directing in music videos and later debuted her first feature as director: the widely praised “The Virgin Suicides”. Her second, “Lost in Translation”, would be nominated for four Oscars. She would win for her original screenplay, but lose out to Peter Jackson in both the Best Director and Best Picture category. (He’d win for “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King”). This is her seventh feature film as director.
You can watch “On the Rocks” on Apple TV with a subscription.
The Sounding (VOD)
directed by Catherine Eaton
A woman refuses to speak for years, until one day she starts speaking in a language she’s concocted from lines of Shakespeare. She’s committed to a psychiatric ward against the wishes of a neuropsychiatrist who’s been working with her.
Catherine Eaton co-writes, directs, and stars as the lead in “The Sounding”. The film made the festival circuit in 2017, but has taken a long time to come to streaming. Eaton has worked mostly as an actress. “The Sounding” is her first feature as a writer and director. She’s also written the upcoming “The Mohawk Trail”.
See where to rent “The Sounding” via streaming right here.
Haunting of the Mary Celeste (VOD)
directed by Shana Betz
Rachel is a researcher who wants to prove the disappearance of several ships has to do with supernatural phenomenon out at sea. She theorizes they’re disappearing into an alternate dimension.
This is the third feature from director Shana Betz. She’s most known for 2013’s “Free Ride” starring Anna Paquin.
See where to rent “Haunting of the Mary Celeste” via streaming right here.
American Selfie: One Nation Shoots Itself (Showtime)
directed by Alexandra Pelosi
“American Selfie: One Nation Shoots Itself” documents the turmoil that’s grasped the United States as conditions in the country become worse and more stratified. The focus is on protests, marches, and rallies.
Alexandra Pelosi is Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s daughter, but this isn’t some vanity project. Pelosi has carved a long career in documentary filmmaking. She’s produced a number of documentaries for HBO (though this one is with Showtime). “American Selfie” will be her eighth feature documentary as director, not counting several shorts.
You can watch “American Selfie: One Nation Shoots Itself” on Showtime with a subscription.
Take a look at new shows + movies by women from past weeks.
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