By Charlotte Smith (Saffron Walden)
Hindle Wakes directed by Maurice Elvey and written by Victor Saville, is a bold feminist statement of independence and change portrayed by leading actress Estelle Brody (Fanny Hawthorne). Being the first silent film I have watched, I was blown away by how elegantly each shot was stringed together in a way which detracted from there being no dialogue. My full attention was with each individual characters expressions and emotions.
The story focuses around Wakes week at a mill in Lancashire, where young attractive Fanny Hawthorne (Estelle Brody) takes a promiscuous trip to Blackpool where she encounters a loving embrace with mill owner’s son Allan Jeffcote (John Stuart). The innocence of the film is glowing until Fanny returns home from her trip to Blackpool. When Fanny’s parents discover her affair with Allan Jeffcote, a soon to be married man, they disown her and force her to leave home. Fanny’s response to her family’s outrage and Allan Jeffcote’s marriage proposal represents strong women power and feminism; this is really shown when Fanny leaves saying “I would not live at home after this mother, not anyhow. I am going to be on my own in the future”.
Defying parents rules and making your own life decisions is central to Fanny’s bold feminist characterization. Her dignity still intact she claims “I’m a Lancashire lass and so long as there are still spinning mills in Lancashire I can earn enough to keep myself respectable.”
Set in the 1920s we not only get a contextual understanding of women’s rights in the late 1920s but the fashion and style at the time. There is a key scene when the women of the mill are kicking of their work shoes and strapping on their heels in a flurry of excitement during Wakes week. There is a real sense of freedom in the Blackpool sequence. The women all seem to have this boyish “Flapper” style haircut, particularly characteristic of the 1920s era, representing moral change.
The technical construction of each shot was mesmerizing, particularly when Fanny and Allan rode the roller-coaster in Blackpool. The camera must have been strapped to the ride to get this visually stimulating, point of view shot on the roller coaster ride. The cinematography is fairly modern for its time with the extreme close ups of the feet dancing and movement with the camera. Hindle Wakes was iconic for its time.
Having live piano accompaniment from John Sweeney made the screening especially magnificent. John Sweeney has been accompanying silent films since the 1990s, playing most famously at the national theatre. He improvised the whole film without much pre-rehearsal. The piano’s dynamics naturally crescendo with the actors beats, when the mood heightened the piano went into a minor key and reached a climax. There was a consistent theme throughout the film which encouraged a smooth transition from one shot to the next. I found myself really engaged on what was happening on screen and not once being distracted by Johns playing as he was beautifully synchronized with the film.
Fanny has shown to today’s audience how women broke away from societal patriarchy within the family to become an independent women in the working class world. She is an inspiration to us all. Hindle Wakes can be remembered for being truly engaging, and John Sweeny’s accompaniment supports Maurice Elvey’s visuals sublimely.