Snatches is a suitably audacious title for a run of eight short dramas celebrating the centenary of women’s suffrage. And yes, the pun was deliberate.
“It’s reclaiming the word, isn’t it?” says theatre director Vicky Featherstone, who’s curated the series of eight filmed monologues for BBC4. She admits, though, that she was surprised when the title was green lit.
“It was my first idea, and I thought, ‘There’s no way they’re going to let it happen,’ but they [BBC4] were rather amused by it. And in terms of what we’re doing with the monologues, it fits very well. Our monologues are literally snatches of women’s lives, but a lot of those stories are about people and issues that aren’t really known, so we’re reclaiming the history and we’re reclaiming the word.”
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The project, she explains, follows on from Mark Gatiss’s Queers monologues [the hit of last year’s Gay Britannia season marking the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act] and is a collaboration with London’s Royal Court Theatre. Featherstone is the first female artistic director at “the Court” and the theatre’s tradition of up-front and engaging social drama is firmly upheld in Snatches.
“Our aim was to cover stories over the hundred years since women won the vote,” says Featherstone. “We did some research into women’s political and social history across that period, and some really interesting timelines came up. Then it was up to the writers to focus on what they thought was interesting.” The all-female roster of writers, actors and film-makers are, she says, “the tip of an iceberg of talent” and includes some big
names as well as relative newcomers.
Two of the 15-minute dramas will be shown on consecutive nights, starting on Monday at 10pm, with Compliance, in which Romola Garai (The Hour, The Miniaturist) performs a script by Abi Morgan. Garai has spoken about her encounter, as a young actor, with Harvey Weinstein in a hotel room, and her monologue describes just such a scenario. Is there an element of autobiography? Featherstone is giving nothing away, but promises a gratifying twist in the tale.
Writers were given carte blanche on the kind of stories they wanted to tell. “It was their decision whether they wanted to write about real characters and situations or create something fictional,” says Featherstone. “Visually, each of the films has its own very strong look – they’re almost like 1980s music videos – and of course the imaginative potential of the monologue is endless.
“It’s the most honest form of storytelling. You have that incredible, one-to-one connection with the viewer, and the speaker can take you anywhere, without sets or scene changes. Some of our monologues are naturalistic, others are really pushing the boundaries of the form, but every one of them is coming from a really surprising place.”
Certainly it’s shocking to consider that rape within marriage, the subject of Pig Life (Tuesday), was legal in England until 1991. “You really can’t believe that happened in such recent history,” says Featherstone, “but if you were to say, ‘A film’s just been made about it,’ I know I’d go somewhere quite predictable in my head. In fact, our writer, EV Crowe, has created something absolutely extraordinary in terms of what Shirley Henderson is doing and saying on screen.”
Zooming out from individual voices to life-changing movements, the monologues build a compelling picture of female resilience. Pritilata (Wednesday) tells the true story of a 21-year-old Indian woman who challenged the British colonial administration (as late as the 1930s, less than one per cent of women were enfranchised in most provinces of India). Reclaim the Night (also Wednesday), set in 1977, recalls the courage of women who
refused to live under curfew in towns in the north of England while the Yorkshire Ripper was at large. Multiples (Thursday) details the anguish of a woman wrongly accused of killing three of her children, while Tipping Point (also Thursday) looks forward to a future when women have the demographic advantage.
In truth, every one of the films celebrates some kind of tipping point for women, and the cumulative rush of victories is exhilarating. For Featherstone, however, the series is also a rallying cry: “I’m an incredibly optimistic person, but I think the shock, for all of us who worked on Snatches, is that things maybe haven’t changed as much for women as we thought they had. We think that everything has changed – and lots of change has happened – but we still have a gender pay gap, we still don’t have equality, because equality, for some, feels threatening. Snatches shows how things can shift. We just have to make sure they don’t shift backwards.”
Snatches: Moments From Women’s Lives will air two films per night from Monday 18th to Thursday 21st June at 10pm on BBC4