Sometime after her death, film director Jill Craigie reopens an old suitcase that she left in her house. The contents prompt a series of memories of the extraordinary life and loves of this forceful, charismatic woman, whose work has been long neglected.
Jill Craigie (1911 – 99) was one of the first women to direct documentaries in the UK. Working outside the British Documentary Movement in the 1940s and early 50s, her films such as To Be Woman (1951), on equal pay, and Out of Chaos (1944), the first film about artists at work, featuring Henry Moore and Paul Nash, tackled new subjects for the cinema through a unique blend of drama, polemic and often humour.
Independent Miss Craigie uses its subject’s own films extensively as well as other fiction and propaganda of the 1940s to reflect on, and contextualize, her life and career. It draws on the director’s unseen papers, along with her films, letters, photographs and interviews to reveal her energetic struggles to get her radical films made and distributed. Dual narrative voices – from actual interviews and from a script performed by Hayley Atwell – evoke the split between Craigie’s persona as a young, apparently confident film-maker and her later dismissal of her work. The film echoes Craigie’s hybrid mix of drama and documentary and use of the first person to represent women’s experiences and subjectivities, previously marginalized within the British Documentary Movement.
Craigie’s last documentary on the Yugoslavian civil war, was made when she was 83 in 1994, after a break of thirty years from film-making. Her many talents in writing, researching and directing were never fully exploited in the film and television industries, but expressed as a journalist, early ‘media personality’ and anti-nuclear campaigner. Inspired by the suffragettes, on whom she became an expert, she was a lifelong feminist and shared the socialist beliefs of the reforming Labour government elected in 1945. She married her third husband, ‘Labour’s Old Romantic’, former party leader, Michael Foot in 1949.
The challenges of negotiating the gendered hierarchies of film production and supporting her husband, while retaining her own goals and identity, were a challenge faced by many women in the media business, then and now.
Hayley Atwell – Voice of young Jill Craigie
Mimi Haddon – Jill Craigie
Cornelius Clarke – John Davis
Steven Connery – Jeffrey Dell
Paul White – JA Rank
Bryan Hands – Michael Foot
Catherine Humphrys – Sylvia Pankhurst
Gareth Wildig – Welsh Man
Producer/Director – Lizzie Thynne
Associate Producers – Hollie Price, Adele Tulli
Editor – Vera Simmonds
Camera – Pascale Neuschäfer, Malgorzata Pronko
Art Direction – Erin Green, Jessica Griffin
Sound – Al Green, Nikoline Gjoertz
Production Assistant – Chiara Cannata
With special thanks to The Women’s Library, London School of Economics, who hold The Jill Craigie Collection.
Download a synopsis of Independent Miss Craigie here (PDF)
Independent Miss Craigie is supported by