Herstory on Film

Each month, the Herstory Club curates 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.

In film, exploring – in its traditional sense – is more often than not singularly left to men, which makes for frustrating viewing when trying to celebrate female achievements in the field. However, Angelina Jolie and – more recently – Alicia Vikander star as the iconic and adventurous Lara Croft across multiple films. Sandra Bullock may hold her own (and carry the entire film) while exploring the deep recess of space in the breath-taking cinematic masterpiece that is Gravity, but she is supported (albeit briefly) by fellow box office sensation George Clooney. Women regularly hold marginal roles in an ensemble exploring cast: see Jessica Chastain and Kate Mara as astronauts in the Matt Damon space rescue mission The Martian; Anne Hathaway and Chastain (again!) in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar; Rachel Weisz as everyone’s favourite librarian in The Mummy; and Zoe Saldana taking up the mantle as Uhura and joining the crew to boldly go where no one had gone before in the latest Star Trek trilogy.

Documentaries really do allow female explorers to shine. 2018’s Running for Good follows ultra-marathon runner Fiona Oakes as she treks 250km through the Sahara Desert; Moksha – Freedom Through the Mountains follows women Nepali mountain bikers in Kathmandu; and Losing Sight of Shore celebrates female friendship as four women row 8,000 miles from America to Australia. The Wanderlust Women follows Amira Patel’s journey to diversify the outdoors and inspire a community of over 1,000 Muslim women to hike and Project 282 takes on the sweeping beauty of Emily Scott’s challenge across the Scottish Munros.

Our top five films for this month feature a documentary on a teenage powerhouse; a French film charting the challenges of mother-daughter relationships and being an astronaut; a sweeping biographical drama; and two Hollywood stars going for very long walks in adaptations of popular memoirs, one accompanied by camels and the other by a giant backpack. Without further ado…

Maidentrip

(2013, Dir.: Jillian Schlesinger)

The 2013 documentary Maidentrip charts the two-year voyage of 14-year-old Laura Dekker to become the youngest person to sail around the world alone in her two-mastered ketch named Guppy. This coming-of-age tale shows the sheer strength and determination of a passionate teenage girl intent on following her dreams. Director Jillian Schlesinger made the film in collaboration with Dekker herself, largely utilising footage shot at sea in the midst of her adventure.

Maidentrip is available to buy on DVD

Proxima

(2019, Dir.: Alice Winocour)

Eva Green stars as Sarah, the only female astronaut training at the European Space Agency. Her selection to the Proxima crew for a year-long stint aboard the International Space Station places a strain on her relationship with her 8-year-old daughter Stella (Zélie Boulant). The film is an exploration of space and of women in a male-dominated industry, tackling an intimate family drama and childhood dreams to critical success. Green was nominated for a César award for her work in this leading role.

Proxima is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video, and stream on Netflix

Queen of the Desert

(2015, Dir.: Werner Herzog)

Nicole Kidman plays Gertrude Bell, the British traveller, archaeologist, cartographer, writer and political officer for the British Empire at the turn of the twentieth century. Her knowledge and contacts built from her extensive travelling in the Middle East made her highly respected and influential to British policy making. The film charts her life chronologically, from her early twenties to her death. While it may have been nominated for the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, critics weren’t universally kind and it was a box office disappointment (only grossing $2 million against a budget of $36 million), so proceed with caution…

Queen of the Desert is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video

Tracks

(2013, Dir.: John Curran)

This Australian drama follows Robin Davidson (Mia Wasikowska) and her nine-month journey across 1,700 miles of the deserts of Western Australia with four camels and her dog in 1977. There had been multiple attempts over the years to bring an adaptation of Davidson’s memoir to the big screen, with Julia Roberts and Nicole Kidman attached to the project at various points before Wasikowska was eventually cast. The cinematography of Tracks captures the undeniable beauty of the Australian wilderness, showcasing a voyage of self-discovery and exploration purely for the joy of the journey. 

Tracks is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video

Wild

(2014, Dir.: Jean-Marc Vallée)

Wild is a biographical drama based on Cheryl Strayed’s 2012 memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. The moving and emotional film follows Strayed’s (Reese Witherspoon) 1,100-mile solo hike along the PCT, including flashbacks of her life and the personal tragedies that prompted her backpacking adventure. Both Witherspoon and Laura Dern (who plays Strayed’s mother Bobbi) were Oscar nominated for their roles.

Wild is available to rent or buy on Amazon Prime Video


About the Author: Emma Forth

Contact:

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.

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