Intense biographer Amanda Foreman introduces a first-rate heavyweight series about the history of women from the dawn of civilisation to the modern day. “You can judge a civilisation by the way it treats its women,” she says, “and the degree to which its women have authority, agency and autonomy.” Excellent.
The Ascent of Woman
BBC Two, 9pm
There has never been a better time to be born a woman, says Dr Amanda Foreman. There are more female heads of government and more women running organisations today than at any time in history. It’s far from perfect, but it’s better than it was. In this fascinating series, she traces the ascent of women from ancient Mesopotamia to the present day, and asks why history became almost exclusively male, why almost every civilisation set limits on women’s sexuality, speech and freedom of movement, and why the status of women is so vulnerable to the dictates of politics, economics and religion. If you judge a civilisation by the way women were treated, she says, the ancient Greeks were as bad as the Taliban.
By Kirsten Sweeney
As part of ERA’s commitment to helping licence holders make best use of the material available to them, we have decided to start highlighting our ‘top pick’ each week.
The Ascent of Woman (starting Wednesday 2nd September, 9pm, BBC2) is a new series exploring the stories of women that have made, and changed, human history. Presented by Dr Amanda Foreman, the first episode considers civilisation from the view point of women. From the BBC:
Across Europe and the Near East, she uncovers a group of extraordinary women who created their own routes to power in male-dominated worlds. These include Enheduanna, the world’s first recorded author, the Ukok Ice Maiden, one of the great archaeological discoveries of the 20th century, and Hatshepsut, one of ancient Egypt’s most successful but most maligned ruling queens. Crucially, she also explores the darker legacy of gender inequality in ancient Greece, whose influential ideas on the inferiority of women have cast a long shadow over women’s lives across the globe to this day. Amanda’s approach aims to profoundly alter the accepted view of civilization once and for all.
Clips of the series could prove to be a useful History (or Herstory!) resource for secondary schools, but also could provoke discussion in a Further or Higher education seminar as to how and why we frame the past from a male perspective.
Follow the hashtag #TVforHE or #TVforTeachers and @EraResources for more lesson ideas. You can also follow the series through their dedicated Twitter account: @ascentofwoman
The Ascent of Woman
Wednesday 2 September, 9.00pm
Dr Amanda Foreman travels across the world to examine the stories of the remarkable women who have influenced thousands of years of history. In the first episode, Foreman explores the lives of women who acquired great power while living in male-dominated societies. These include Enheduanna, who is believed to be the world’s first author, and Hatshepsut, one of ancient Egypt’s most famous queens.
While she’s often celebrated for her beauty, Carey Mulligan appeared intent on keeping things low-key when she stepped out in New York City for a high-profile event on Wednesday.
The 29-year-old actress attended a special luncheon to celebrate her upcoming movie, Far From The Madding Crowd, and it was the sheer simplicity of her look that drew admiration. With her dark brown tresses styled in a neat bun, the British screen star let her natural beauty shine through as she wore make-up for her moment in the spotlight.
She also kept her ensemble equally simple yet eye-catching, stepping out in an embellished sleeveless plunging black top, which she teamed with a black skirt and matching heels.
By Regina Weinreich
La Grenouille experienced a British invasion yesterday for a lunch celebrating the film Far From the Madding Crowd, based on Thomas Hardy’s beloved 19th century novel. Carey Mulligan, currently starring in Skylight on Broadway, plays Bathsheba Everdene, a strong-willed and occasionally wrong-headed heroine, a pre-feminist, you could call her. Belgian actor Matthias Schoenaerts portrays Gabriel Oak, the pre-feminist hunk who protects her. He is loyal, kind, brave, talented, hard-working, and dreamy. When I asked Schoenaerts, memorable for his performance opposite Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone what he thought of this character, he enthused, “I can learn from him. I want to BE him.”
The film shares with another fine recently released period film, Effie Gray: the actor Tom Sturridge. In FFMC, he’s a soldier, a lout, who briefly wins Bathsheba’s heart, “beneath her” in Gabriel’s estimation. She marries him anyway, bringing on a set of misfortunes. In Effie Gray, about the wife of essayist and art historian John Ruskin, Sturridge portrays the sensitive artist with whom Effie Gray (Dakota Fanning), another pre-feminist, truly connects.
The luncheon being a Peggy Siegal affair, Amanda Foreman (who goes by Bill) interviewed Mulligan and Schoenaerts, with Finding Neverland’s Matthew Morrison, Julie Taymor, Tina Brown, Stefano Tonchi attending. Sir Peter Westmacotts, British Ambassador to the United States and Danny Lopez, British Consul General in New York, introduced her, noting her contribution to literature. Everyone always asks how Foreman does it, writing her books, managing a household including her five children, and hosting House of Speakeasy which that night would convene at City Winery featuring authors Elif Shafak, Tom Robb Smith, and House of Cards showrunner Beau Willimon. By working all the time, she says.
By Benjamin-Emile Le Hay
There was calm after almost-storm Juno. Too much of it, according to city night owls who found the enforced curfew and lack of Ubers infuriating until they were let let loose at House of SpeakEasy’s Gala Wednesday night, sponsored by Aberfeldy and Craigellachie single malt scotches.
“I’m excited to be here!” smiled top guest Dan Stevens of Downton Abbey as he was speedily whirled around the room.
“Sorry!” Uma Thurman chirped, arriving a little late to proceedings, pausing only to pose for a few photos before joining her friend Waris Ahluwalia at her table. By then, patrons were enjoying Simon Doonan recounting an uproarious tale of his audition for the part of Nigel in the Devil Wears Prada. Actor Jim Dale, writer/producer Susan Fales-Hill and political satirist P.J. O’Rourke followed with their own stories on the theme of “Runnin’ Wild,” or trying not to…
By Regina Weinreich
“Are there any thespians in the house?” asked Simon Doonan at City Winery for the second annual House of SpeakEasy gala on Wednesday night, looking for sympathy. The writer and window dresser long associated with Barney’s (he’s now the store’s creative ambassador at large), had launched into his story about having been tapped for the part of Nigel in the movie of The Devil Wears Prada, a good choice in everyone’s estimation, but he had reservations. “It’s the role of the helpful homosexual,” he quipped, “and I’m not that helpful.” Concluding they were merely picking his brain, “Nigel” did in fact go to a thespian, Stanley Tucci, and yes, there were at least three thespians present in a roomful of writers and other book lovers: Uma Thurman, Jim Dale and Dan Stevens.
Riffing on the theme of Runnin’ Wild, Doonan was one of three featured performers for the event celebrating an organization dedicated to supporting writers, building new literary audiences, and connecting the two in entertaining ways. Another speaker was Susan Fales-Hill, a memoirist and writer for television who began her career as an apprentice on The Cosby Show. A mixed salad of genetic material, she revealed that though she is married for 18 years to the same man, and therefore not wild in the least, she secretly yearns for Downton Abbey’s Mr. Bates. Only Dan Stevens from that cast, a heartthrob to many as the ill-fated Matthew Crawley, attended with his wife Susie Hariet. A sometime writer, known to tweet, he’s editor-at-large of a literary magazine, The Junket.
Humorist P. J. O’Rourke went wild on the subject of baby boomers’ absorption in the self. This entertainment was leavened by Jim Dale’s skillful recitation of familiar quotes from Shakespeare, two of John Dewar and Son’s Last Great Malts, Aberfeldy and Craigellachie single malt whiskies, and a literary quiz masterminded by the evening’s M. C. Amanda Foreman. A mother of five who goes by the name of Bill, Foreman’s latest credit is with BBC2. She will present a show called The World Made by Women, based on a book of the same title that will be published by Random House in 2016.
Thank goodness! The word is alive and well!
By Regina Weinreich
The name of this utterly charming movie conjures images of the Disney cartoon feature with a brunette cartoon star singing in the library. Dido Belle, however, was a real life mixed race woman, smart enough to have had a career in the law, but for 18th century England, she went far. The talented Amma Asante’s movie is an Austenesque comedy of manners, keenly involved with who shall marry whom, and whose fortune is more plump than so and so’s social standing, but here’s the delicious twist: Belle is desirably financially endowed, but as a mulatto, and illegitimate, she is of dubious position. Thoughtful and daring, she influences an important decision, changing the course of British history.
Born in a slum to a black woman and a high-born white navy captain (Matthew Goode), Belle’s fate takes a turn when her father takes charge of her, and brings her to his family’s stately mansion. There, surrogate parents, Lord and Lady Mansfield (excellent Tom Wilkinson and a witty Emily Watson), manage Belle’s education and upbringing. Her cousin Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon) is a constant playmate. Belle’s father disappears early on, and in many ways this romance becomes a father-daughter piece, with Wilkinson beaming proud of his ward as Belle shows intelligence, not only in helping to adjudicate a
famous legal case involving the Zong slave ship vs. an insurance company, but also insisting that when she marries, her race would not be an issue of conciliation and embarrassment. Sam Reid plays the suitor, a kind of Mr. Darcy.
At a recent lunch at la Grenouille, hosted by British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant and W Magazine’s Stefano Tonchi, Phyllicia Rychard, Star Jones, Tamron Hall, and others were introduced to director Amma Asante and her leading actress, Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Diners also heard historical novelist Amanda Foreman flesh out the legalities of the Zong slave ship matter. Foreman, originator of the popular and entertaining House of Speakeasy nights, where writers are invited to extrapolate on a theme, knows how to make history and literature engaging and fun. The discussion went down with the ease of the delicious striped bass: in the case of Belle, and the lovely actress who plays her, a refreshing gem in the season of sequels and action hero blockbusters.