Up the Women: Episode 1 Review
Reviewed by Patrick Kavanagh-Sproull.
“It’s my motion that the Banbury Intricate Craft Circle becomes the Banbury Intricate Craft Circle Frankly Demands Women’s Suffrage” – Margaret Unwin.
Branded as a ‘suffragette sitcom’ Jessica Hynes’ new comedy about an Oxfordshire women’s clique joining the enfranchisement cause starts off shakily, but some entertaining performances from the lead performers keeps me watching.
Up the Women is delightfully old-fashioned and antiquated for a sitcom; it constrains itself to two rooms and no alfresco scenes whatsoever. The cast is all female bar Miranda’s Adrian Scarborough as the clueless electrician, Frank and Plebs’ Ryan Sampson as the bright-faced and upright youngster, Thomas. Hynes has put restrictions on her comedy in an attempt to make it feel retro (it is of course set in 1910) and in some ways it works. Everything is more precise and clipped; there is no excess material in the mix at all. A couple of the group’s members do feel superfluous and underused but apart from them, everyone plays a valid part.
Jessica Hynes takes the leading role as Margaret, a housewife who is about to propose something big to her compeers – she wishes for the Banbury Intricate Craft Circle of which she is a member of, to become a part of the suffrage. Not everyone likes the idea, and an anti-suffrage league is instigated by the domineering Helen (The Thick of It’s Rebecca Front). Front’s performance is one of the highlights, and the same can be said for Judy Parfitt as Helen’s cynical mother, Myrtle.
One of the things I can’t quite get my head around in the first episode is the humour. I never laughed, not once but merely smiled throughout. This doesn’t stop Up the Women being bad; the script fizzes with historical charm and accuracy. The limitations Hynes has placed upon herself are bold and you have to admire her for doing that. It’s hard enough making a sitcom about a serious subject such as women’s rights, let alone set it entirely in a church hall. Apart from a couple of crass jokes the comedy is rather level but not nonexistent or lame.
Where the series will go from episode one is unclear, and hopefully it’ll get funnier as we go on but then there is the chance of it spiralling downhill. Jessica Hynes is such a talented writer that I feel like I want to love it, and I do, but not for the right reasons. Up the Women is pleasantly antiquated but the majority of the jokes flop, and the reason I really like it is because it has a humbleness that is admirable.
Up the Women is funny at times, stale at others but some amusing performances and an intriguing concept may just save it yet.