Each month, the Herstory Club will be curating a selection of films that complement our monthly theme. This collection will be female-focused – both in front of the camera and ideally behind too – and range from fiction to biopics of real women in history. The films we’ll be recommending aim to both entertain and educate, showcasing cult classics, new hits, and movies you may never have heard of.
For this month’s theme of women in sport, there are an abundance of films to choose from. There’s the cheerleading classic Bring It On (celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2020!); award-winning boxing drama Million Dollar Baby; roller derby hit Whip It; and the Katharine Hepburn-Spencer Tracy 1952 romantic-comedy Pat and Mike. Queen of Katwe tells the true story of a young Ugandan girl discovering her talent for chess; Fast Girls explores the world of professional sprinters; and Iranian comedy Offside tackles girls attempting to watch a World Cup football match despite being forbidden by law to do so due to their gender.
Our top five films for this month feature women in baseball, tennis, football, wrestling, and ice skating. Without further ado…
A League of Their Own
(1992, Dir.: Penny Marshall)
Featuring knock out performances from Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell (and Tom Hanks), A League of Their Own follows two sisters as they join the first female professional baseball league – a fictionalised version of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League – delivering a commentary on both women in the popular American sport and the changing position of women in wartime. The film was preserved by the United States National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2012 due to its “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” nature, and was praised as being “both funny and feminist”. A reboot is currently in the works at Amazon with Abbi Jacobson at the helm.
A League of Their Own is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video and iTunes; and stream on Sky Cinema.
Battle of the Sexes
(2017, Dir.: Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris)
In 1973, 55 year-old male former tennis player Bobby Riggs challenged women’s world number one, 29 year-old Billie Jean King, to a match famously dubbed the “battle of the sexes”. King defeated Riggs in straight sets in front of a global televised audience of an estimated 90 million, heralding the dawn of a new era for the acceptance of women in tennis. Emma Stone and Steve Carell lead a cast that brings this moment in history to life in a film that covers female representation in tennis, the women’s movement, and the sexual revolution of the 1970s.
Battle of the Sexes is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, and Sky Store.
Bend It Like Beckham
(2002, Dir.: Gurinder Chadha)
2002 cult classic Bend It Like Beckham follows Jess (Parminder Nagra) as she rebels against the traditional life her Sikh parents had planned for her in favour of following her dreams by joining a local women’s football team. It touches upon questions relating to gender norms, culture and race. The film was a surprise hit, taking over £60 million in cinemas worldwide and becoming the highest grossing football film of all time, providing a platform to raise the profile of women in the sport.
Bend It Like Beckham is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, and Sky Store.
Fighting with My Family
(2019, Dir.: Stephen Merchant)
Florence Pugh stars as Saraya “Paige” Knight, the English professional wrestler, in this biopic charting her journey from an unconventional childhood in a family of wrestlers, through to achieving her dream as a Divas Champion in the WWE. Based on the 2012 documentary The Wrestlers: Fighting with My Family, this fun film has a stellar ensemble cast, including Lena Headey and Dwayne Johnson (as himself…), and successfully navigates family politics and gender stereotypes without compromising on the comedy.
Fighting with My Family is available to stream on Netflix; and to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video and iTunes.
(2017, Dir. Craig Gillespie)
In I, Tonya, Margot Robbie portrays figure skater Tonya Harding in this biographical dark comedy charting her life from a child to the modern day, focussing on her connection to the 1994 attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan. The film uses mockumentary-style interviews with the characters in order to tease out details of the crime, highlighting how unreliable they all are as narrators. Allison Janney won multiple Supporting Actress awards (including the Oscar) for her portrayal of Harding’s abusive mother.
I, Tonya is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video, iTunes, and Sky Store.
About the Author: Emma Forth
I’m a first year History PhD student at the University of Edinburgh. My research combines my passions for the First World War and film by exploring the development of early cinema, 1909-1918, across all four nations of the United Kingdom. For the last six months I have been producing the first database and maps of British and Irish cinemas in 1914, showcasing the position of cinema at the outbreak of the Great War. In a four-year hiatus from education prior to postgraduate study in 2018 I worked as a risk analyst; ran the admissions department in a high school; and was a receptionist and volunteer at Gladstone’s Library, Hawarden. I am an avid reader, theatregoer, and cross-stitcher, and when not frantically Marie Kondo-ing my possessions and renovating my flat and during a pandemic, I can be found watching superhero films and dreaming of museums.