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Les Femmes britanniques et la Deuxième Guerre mondiale : La place des femmes en temps de guerre, points de vue internes et externes

Women, war and cinema, 1939-1945: blitz on gender stereotypes?

Femmes, guerre et cinéma au Royaume-Uni de 1939 à 1945 : une remise en question radicale des stéréotypes liés au genre ?
Elizabeth de Cacqueray
p. 131-152


La Deuxième Guerre mondiale constitue une période clé, au Royaume-Uni, dans l’histoire des femmes et de leur représentation cinématographique. A travers l’analyse de chiffres officiels concernant les femmes et l’emploi pendant la guerre cet article montre à quel point les femmes jouaient un rôle essentiel dans l’« effort de guerre ». Il examine ensuite quelles réponses le cinéma a apporté par rapport à cet appel aux femmes, mettant en avant à l’écran les nouveaux rôles sollicités auprès des femmes mais aussi, parfois, continuant à appuyer des attitudes plus traditionnelles. En analysant une grande variété de films produits pendant la guerre, de genres cinématographiques différents – films de fiction, documentaires, films émanant des forces armées – on est témoin de l’émergence d’un nouveau type d’héroïne cinématographique, l’« héroïne de guerre », innovatrice dans le courage et l’esprit d’initiative dont elle peut faire preuve mais, en fin de compte, respectueuse des frontières des rôles traditionnels associés aux genres masculins et féminin. En conclusion, l’article se demande dans quelle mesure ces rôles cinématographiques innovateurs dans le domaine du genre ont pu se perpétuer dans la période d’après guerre.

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1The research from which this article emerged was undertaken as an investigation into a particular period in the history of women in the United Kingdom, that of the Second World War and is attached more specifically to the history of the cinematographic representation of women in this country. The article examines the extent to which the nation needed women during World War Two and the ways in which cinema responded to this need, often projecting and promoting new gender roles and models, yet sometimes continuing to reflect long-standing attitudes of anxiety around the gendered distribution of tasks revealing, perhaps half unconsciously, areas rendered even more sensitive by the massive introduction of women into previously male preserves. The article first examines transformations in women’s place within the labour force during the war, in response to the nation’s need for extra labour, and then goes on to examine women’s place within cinematographic representations, thanks to the study of a number of well-known and lesser known films of the period. The study shows how a particular brand of war heroine emerged – a female character, often as central protagonist, capable of showing initiative and determination but who, ultimately, recognised where the boundaries of gender transformations lay. Finally, the article discusses briefly the post-war prolongations or lack of prolongations of the wartime heroine.

The Nation Needs its Womenfolk

2To a very large extent, both in historical and geographical terms, warfare has been considered to concern predominately the male members of a society: they are the agents traditionally called upon to defend territory, women and children, in order to ensure the perpetuation of the community. This pattern was considerably shaken by the circumstances of the Second World War. The material means of modern warfare, technological development of aircraft and munitions, the philosophy of modern war (if one can call it such!), whereby victory was believed to depend as much on intimidating and eliminating civilians, in order to prevent the production of armaments, as on their destruction on the battlefield, placed the civilian populations in a position of physical threat often as great as that of the armed forces. The civilian population in the United Kingdom participated in the battles in very real terms, at once by being on the receiving end of the bombing but also by putting a maximum of effort into the production of munitions, to enable the armed forces to continue their fighting role and by replacing the men called up, thus freeing them to fill the ranks in the forces. The importance of civilian roles in the furthering of the war was recognised linguistically by the use of the term the “Home Front”, an expression already familiar in World War One.

3The Second World War saw a considerable development in the concept of nations being engaged in “total war”, war which would affect all citizens and require their unquestioning commitment to the conflict. The preliminary degree of female adhesion to the national project of warfare was that of accepting, if possible with a good grace, the recruiting of their menfolk – husbands, sons, brothers – into the armed forces. However, it soon became clear that a much greater degree of participation would be required of women: firstly, resistance to various forms of hardship – physical danger, loss of housing, separation from children, lack of food and most goods hitherto considered as essentials – and subsequently, active participation in war work or in the armed forces.

  • 1  Statistics from Annual Abstract 1939-1948, Ministry of Labour and National Service, Table 112, Lab (...)

4A brief examination of statistics relating to the labour force1 indicates the growing involvement of women in the war effort:

Table I













Total working population (thousands)*




































* The total number of persons in work or available for work aged between 14 and 65 for men, or 14 and 60 for women. Includes employers and self-employed, the Armed Forces, men and women on release leave not yet in employment, the unemployed and women in part-time paid employment, two of the latter being counted as one unit; they exclude indoor private domestic servants.

5As Table I shows, in 1938, there were nearly 5 million women out of a total working population of 19,473,000. This figure rose to a peak of 7,253,000 in 1943, an increase of more than 45% over the five year period. The greatest rise, of 805,000 women, occurred between 1941 and 1942. After 1943, rather than increasing yearly, the number of women in the workforce began to decline, by 146,000 between 1943 and 1944, then by 339,000 between 1944 and 1945. The biggest decrease occurred between 1945 and 1946, with 883,000 women leaving the working population. However, if one compares the figures for 1938 with those of 1948 it is apparent that there were still 888,000 more working women at the later date which, even taking into account population increase reveals a considerable rise in the number of women working outside the home subsequent to the war.

6If one compares the trends for males as opposed to females one observes that the peak year for an increase in males in the working population occurred two years earlier than for women with 15,222,000 men in the workforce in 1941 as opposed to 14,476,000 in 1938: a rise of 746,000, in real terms much smaller than in the case of women. This would tend to reveal that the pool of males available to be absorbed into the workforce was lower than that of females: barring unemployment, most men had an active occupation outside the home, whilst the greater increase in the number of women employed outside the home indicates that women formerly occupied in the home provided a pool of available labour. Furthermore, the figures would suggest that the pool of males available was absorbed before the call on women was made. The total of males in the workforce decreased from 1941 onwards, dropping to 14,628,000 in 1948. The numerical increase in employment figures for males between 1938 and 1948 is slightly larger than for women but considering the numbers to start with, is much less significant in percentage terms.

7The above figures concern all forms of employment, both civilian and military. The statistics for the armed forces (Table II) illustrate a similar rise and decline, both for males and females:

Table II













Total armed forces and

auxiliary services (thousands)




































8Women only began to join the armed forces in 1940 and we can see that recruitment reached its peak in 1944. A large number of women left the armed forces between 1946 and 1947: 73,000. A further 25,000 left between 1947 and 1948 but 39,000 women remained in the armed forces or the auxiliary services in 1948. Recruitment for men reached its peak of 4,653,000 in 1945 with numbers dropping to 807,000 in 1948, still more than twice as many as in 1938.

9Table III reveals the interesting increase in women’s civilian employment compared to the decrease in that of men:

Table III













Total (thousands)

civil employment




































10The numbers of females in civil employment rose from 4,612,000 in 1938 to a peak of 6,769,000 in 1943, an increase of 2,157,000 over the five years. Male civil employment increased by almost 4 million from 1938 to 1939 but then dropped back to below the 1938 level, as men joined the forces and women replaced them, the figures for women’s employment rising constantly (469,000 women moved into civil employment during the period 1939-1940). Male civil employment continued to decline until 1946 when it rose again. In 1948, the level of male employment was 5.25% above that of 1938.

11Unfortunately, the official statistics do not show the increases and decreases in each different sector of civil employment according to gender. However, it is significant that employment in textiles, traditionally a more feminine sector, decreased from 861,000 in 1938 to 634,000 in 1945 (the lowest figure), as did “Clothing” (717,000 in 1938, 455,000 in 1944), whilst “Metals and shipbuilding” rose from 2,590,000 to 4,659,000 between 1938 and 1943 and chemicals and explosives rose from 276,000 (1938) to 618,000 (peak year, 1942). Since we have seen that male civil employment was decreasing, the arrival of women in these industries is more or less evident from the statistics. Other figures exist from a variety of sources but these fairly simple tables provided by the Ministry of Labour and National Service clearly indicate the evolution of women’s movements within the working population.

  • 2  Unemployment statistics from Ministry of Labour, op.cit.
  • 3  Angus Calder, The People’s War: Britain 1939-1945, London: Pimlico, 1996 [1969], 234.
  • 4  Ernest Bevin (1881-1951) Minister of Labour and National Service in Winston Churchill’s coalition (...)
  • 5  Angus Calder, op.cit., 268.
  • 6 Ibid., 331.
  • 7 Ibidem.

12It may to us today appear rather mundane that women should step in and replace men in civilian employment or should sign up for auxiliary military service, but this was by no means a foregone conclusion in the late 1930s. There was a reserve of unemployed workers (1.7 million in 1938 and still almost 1.3 million in 1939) who filled the employment shortage caused by the call up and by the need to increase production in the munitions industry and in agriculture, in particular. The necessity of calling on women was therefore reduced, although 575,000 women did join the workforce between 1939 and 1940. However, by 1940 unemployment was down to 645,000 and by 1944 would be reduced to 54,0002 and the shortage of labour was becoming critical. In 1940, the three services and Civil Defence were in need of 1,750,000 men and 84,000 women. Filling these vacancies would have required the withdrawal of about 500,000 workers from the munitions industries, which themselves needed to expand their workforce of 3,500,000 by another 1,500,0003. Call up for men was extended downwards to the age of 18 and upwards to the age of 51 but the reserves of males were still insufficient; there was in fact no alternative but to turn to the pool of available women’s labour. Women had been invited to volunteer but the numbers doing so were not adequate. So, after much heart searching in the War Cabinet and against Winston Churchill’s views, Ernest Bevin4, who had wanted to rely on voluntary participation by women, decided to resort to conscription. The National Service (N°2) Act, establishing call up for women, became law on December 18th 1941. Initially, only unmarried women between the ages of twenty and twenty-five were to be called up but the age limits were quickly extended to women aged between nineteen and thirty. They had a choice between joining the auxiliary military services or Civil Defence and taking up strategic jobs in industry or voluntary work. We can see in Table II the more than fourfold increase in the number of women in the armed services between 1941 and 1944, as a result of the 1941 Act. Interestingly, in spite of the lack of sufficient volunteers previously, the Act obtained the approval of 97% of women, according to the Wartime Social Survey5. Later, war work (outside the home) concerned almost all women and Angus Calder concludes that: “By 1943, it was almost impossible for a woman under forty to avoid war work unless she had heavy family responsibilities or was looking after a war worker billeted on her”6 and indeed Table III indicates 1943 as the peak year for civilian employment for women. Furthermore, Calder points out that in 1943 “recruitment for the services was deliberately restricted in favour of Churchill’s pet, the aircraft industry”7.

  • 8 Ibidem.
  • 9 Ibid., 334.
  • 10  The Women’s Land Army began in the First World War and was reconstituted in June 1939.

13Women were classed as belonging to one of two categories, “mobile” or “immobile”: the latter had heavy domestic responsibilities or were wives of men in the forces. Conscription affected most heavily young, unmarried women considered as “mobile”8. In this new situation, women took up all sorts of hitherto male occupations. In the summer of 1943, again according to Calder, more than 100,000 railwaymen had joined the forces and were replaced by women. The shipyards called on women welders; light engineering was “diluted” with 80% of women workers; 1,500,000 women went into light engineering and metal industries and 300,000 went into explosives and chemical industries where they represented half the total workforce9. About a thousand women joined the Women’s Land Army10 at the outbreak of war, a low figure but more than could be usefully deployed. However, more efficient organisation and greater acceptance of women followed and they came to represent a considerable workforce in agriculture; their numbers rose constantly until the summer of 1943 when the aircraft industry took priority for absorbing female recruits. The Land Army women carried out most of the ordinary functions related to food production in farming but also worked in the Women’s Land Army “Timber Corps” where they selected trees for felling, felled and worked in sawmills. They also participated in land reclamation and a thousand of them worked as rat-catchers!

  • 11  “Attitudes to women’s work in the inter-war years appear to have been little different to those fo (...)
  • 12  Men in “protected occupations” were excluded from being called up.

14There really remained almost no domain where women workers were not introduced despite an initial indisposition on the part of women to volunteer for work and, equally, reluctance on the part of the government to enforce their participation by law. Before the war, young single women were often employed outside the home but, once married, usually gave up outside work11. Furthermore, they tended to work close to home and took one of the few jobs open to them, as secretaries, shop assistants, nurses or teachers. The transition to a new distribution of roles was not necessarily always without opposition: if many women enjoyed the opportunity to take up a new function, some were not eager to change their ways and equally some men were not keen either to know that their wives were working outside the home or to accept them in “protected occupations”12.

15A considerable number of films made during the period portrayed the new roles and activities of women and it is of interest to examine how the films approached this delicate subject. To what extent did they encourage new gender models? To what extent did they reassure the public that women would not overstep the boundaries of gender territories? To what extent did they continue to portray traditional roles?

Female and male roles in wartime: cinematographic representations

  • 13  It excludes therefore such films as Mrs Miniver made by MGM (US) 1942, in spite of its sympathetic (...)

16During the war, films in all the various cinematographic genres were produced in the United Kingdom: newsreels, educational and instructional films, including those in cartoon form, docu-dramas, feature films in a realist vein, feature films appertaining to other genres (historical film, melodramas…). This article takes into consideration British wartime film production, in the realist vein, both feature films and docu-dramas, offering representations of the population in the United Kingdom engaged in the war13 and also films promoting the women’s auxiliary armed forces. A particularity of British cinema production at the time was that no single organisation, or group of organisations, was designated to produce propaganda films, but many studios and organisations, both private and state associated, produced films which, within a framework of entertainment, contained information relevant to the war situation and in various ways promoted the war effort: what was in effect propaganda was thus diffused via a variety of channels without seeming too intrusive. This is particularly true of attitudes towards women: an examination of a certain number of these films shows the extent to which the role of women in the war was essential and to which it was vital to achieve the adhesion of the population to gender role changes. One can see at the same time how they discreetly avoided going too far in the redistribution of gendered roles. According to their subject matter and the treatment of it, one finds illustrations of two types of attitude which I have respectively entitled “Open house: new horizons for women” and “Tradition: ‘Beware, male territory!’”. Within these two broad categories further variations can be discerned: generally, one film offers illustrations of both of the main categories and one can thus see how a delicate balance is maintained, with some encouragement for the new but no excess!

Open house: new horizons for women
You are needed

  • 14 Millions Like Us (1943, dir. Frank Launder and Sydney Gilliatt, 103 m.);A Canterbury Tale (1944, di (...)

17A considerable number of films illustrate the nation’s need for women’s contribution in a great variety of domains. The first message is what I have chosen to call: “You are needed”. Striking examples in relation to new roles for women are to be found in, for instance, Millions Like Us,A Canterbury Tale, Fires Were Started, They Also Serve, Canteen on Wheels, Jane Brown Changes Her Job, Down Our Street 14.

18In these cases, spectators encounter characters representing women who work outside the home. Millions Like Us portrays a family where, for different reasons, the three women of the house go out to work, leaving the father to look after himself. One daughter, Phyllis, joins the ATS quite obviously seeking adventure, possibly mainly sexual! The daughter-in-law goes back to the job she occupied before her marriage because she wants to be useful, replacing someone who has been called up, no doubt, and because, with her husband in the services, the extra money comes in handy. The second daughter, Celia, stays at home to look after father until conscription is compulsory then, as a “mobile” woman, after an interview at the local recruiting office, she is assigned to factory work, in the aircraft industry, away from home. The film is interesting, amongst other things, because it shows the adaptation of women to new conditions but also that role changes concern not only women but also men: the father too is affected, since he has to cook and manage the house for himself. In the factory the foreman has to adapt to training women, which poses few problems, except in the case of an upper-class young lady who is not initially keen on doing manual work. Meanwhile, the women adapt to their tasks and to living together in a hostel: their different social backgrounds make them appear rather strange to each other but this is really the least of their difficulties, social mixing not being portrayed as problematic. The film’s intention was to present the situation of “mobile” women in a positive light for the real-life young women, and their families, who were concerned by conscription. Thus, Celia, the factory worker, meets a well-brought up young man whom she marries. As a navigator in one of the planes she is helping to produce, he is unfortunately killed almost immediately after the marriage but life goes on for Celia thanks to the support of her group of workmates.

19A Canterbury Tale tells the story of a young woman who has joined the Land Army. One of its interesting points is that it tackles the possibility of male hostility to female role changes. Indeed, Alison, a young woman from London, arrives in Chittingbourne, close to Canterbury, where she is to work on the farm of Mr Colepepper, a sort of local squire. He refuses to take her on, asserting that he asked for a “farm labourer”. His negative attitude to women goes even beyond this, as he has the habit of smearing glue in the hair of any young lady who may walk about Chittingbourne in the dark, on the pretext that the young women will distract the soldiers from their duty of protecting the country. Alison’s services, rejected by the one, are snapped up by another as the local inn-keeper’s wife takes her on to work on her farm. The film includes an amusing and astute sequence where Alison proves to the local blacksmith her capacity to manage a horse and to deal with a little male impertinence, in spite of being a “mere” woman. This film too shows some male adaptation to new models in a scene where the inn-keeper’s husband is observed down on his hands and knees, alongside his wife, scrubbing the floor, an unusual position for a male film protagonist! Furthermore, if Alison has to prove she can handle a horse, a young American soldier, who finds himself by mistake in Chittingbourne, has to prove to the same blacksmith that not all Americans correspond to the stereotype of the ignorant gum chewer, so gender and national stereotypes are equated and crossed.

  • 15  Started by the Marchioness of Reading at the request of the Home Office in order to draw women int (...)

20The two films above are feature films whereas Fires Were Started is a sort of early docu-drama. Its prime intention was to show how the London fire service had been organised on a rational basis in order to coordinate the actions of the different fire stations and use the material and personnel to the best effect. Women are seen working the telephone switchboard, sending and receiving the messages to and from the different fire stations and the central headquarters. Unsurprisingly, it is a woman who runs the canteen at the fire station. It is other women who arrive in their little van, in the early hours of the morning, at the site of the warehouse fire, in order to serve tea to the firemen who have worked all night: these women are members of the Women’s Voluntary Service, formed in 193815, who played a considerable role in alleviating the effects of the air raids, in dealing with shocked and/or homeless victims, running rest centres, distributing clothing and so on.

21Canteen on Wheels is a short film (10 minutes), again made on a docu-drama basis, but centring exclusively on the activity of a volunteer canteen van, like the one in Fires Were Started. The action is seen from the point of view of the two women, one experienced volunteer, one new recruit, who take the van round during a night’s activity, described at the start of the film as “London Any Night of the Blitz”. They serve tea both to firemen and to people emerging from the bomb shelters. They work all through the night and just when they think they have finished they have to set off to another site where ninety families have been bombed out. It is a simple film but one which stresses the concept of solidarity, with the two women at the service of all those who need some refreshment and with friendly exchanges between the people around the van, focusing on children and older people talking to each other. Women here serve to soften the atmosphere, to encourage contact, in fact to maintain humanity in the face of aggression.

22Jane Brown Changes Her Job promotes the idea that a woman may be more useful working in some job other than the one she has occupied so far. Again it is a short film (9m.) in the docu-drama vein and just as Canteen on Wheels, to a certain extent, replays Fires Were Started, Jane Brown is somewhat similar to Millions Like Us, which it in fact preceded. Indeed, Jane goes to a recruiting office and is then sent off to a training centre to learn to help make planes. Unlike Celia, she does not wait for call up; she even specifies that she was not to be called up for some time, but was inspired by a poster which read “Give us the bombs and planes we want”. The film follows her progress through the training centre and at the end a plane is wheeled out as Jane’s narrating voice states: “One of the planes me and the others helped to make”. Contrary to Millions Like Us, Jane Brown is overtly designed to encourage young women to take on a war job. It shows a variety of different tasks carried out by women –women mechanics cleaning and fitting the engines, women electricians putting in wiring, women riveters, etc. It underlines that there is a job adapted to everybody’s capabilities: “Girls used to cutting out dress patterns before were being taught how to read engineer’s blueprints”; “I learnt how to use a saw for cutting metal”; “There’s a job for every woman: whether you’re punching out cards, helping to assemble the framework […] you’re all building a plane and helping to put one more in the shed for the boys”. It also includes remarks intended to reassure women in domains which may make them hesitate about taking on an “unfeminine job” or perhaps designed to incite women to adopt new attitudes which will lead them to be useful to the nation. Thus Jane says: “I was fed up about my nails. I had to have them shorter and I soon thought it was no use trying to keep them varnished. Still soap and water and plenty of it keeps them clean”.

  • 16  It is all the more tragic that she died before British cinema could benefit from more of her innov (...)

23They Also Serve and Down Our Street offer rather different cases, even though they concern, in their way, evolution in women’s roles. They are both films which portray older women who do not leave the home to work but who take on new responsibilities. Made by Ruby Grierson, one of John Grierson’s sisters, They Also Serve is quite bold in its title as it puts women, who remain at home supporting the family members and the neighbours who are doing vital war work, on an equal footing with active soldiers. In terms of the recognition of women’s work and the history of the representation of women, Ruby Grierson’s stand is an important and unusual one16. Work in the home is here recognised as of value to the nation, with They Also Serve portraying a middle-aged wife and mother who provides support for her husband and daughter and her female neighbour. It begins with some jolly music and the words: “To the housewives of Great Britain/They also serve/Everyday they are helping to win the war”. After taking tea to her daughter, to wake her up for work, she kneels to remove her husband’s shoes since he has just come in exhausted from his night shift. She is shown genuinely serving them. Equally she keeps the peace between father and his sleepy not too good-tempered daughter. Once they have gone respectively to sleep and to work Mrs Anderson gets on with the house work and her voice-over narrates her thoughts. Interestingly, both Jane Brown Changes her Job and They Also Serve use female narrating voices, giving direct access to the women protagonists’ points of view and inner thoughts. This is unusual in the history of cinema where the role of off-screen narrator was predominantly reserved for male characters until the 1990s, highlighting the fact that women were seldom the main protagonists as it is generally the principal character with whom the audience is encouraged to identify and the narrating voice serves to create this identification. In this film, the narrative technique and insert shots permit references to other aspects of a woman’s life during the war, aspects no doubt shared by many women in the audience: Mrs Anderson thinks of her son who is serving as a soldier, of her neighbour, Mrs Bennett, who is on her own since her husband is in the army and her small son has been evacuated, and she considers herself to be lucky “this time” (i.e. she has already lived through the First World War, with its hardships) to have her husband and her daughter at home. In addition to looking after her own family Mrs Anderson gives a helping hand to Mrs Bennett, who works outside the home, getting dinner for them when Mr Bennett has just one afternoon’s leave.

24Mrs Anderson’s role is not an innovative one, except perhaps as regards assistance offered to the neighbour, an example of the “community spirit” encouraged by the authorities. Moreover, They Also Serve gives Mrs Bennett a foreign accent, allowing Mrs Anderson to obey the need to help one’s neighbour whether he or she totally resembles you or not. The real innovation of the film is in the redefinition of the “heroine”: placing in the foreground an ordinary housewife, whose heroism consists in her unquestioning assistance to those around her. Keeping the house in a good state to provide an environment in which other members of the family can build up their energy in order to go on working constitutes Mrs Anderson’s participation in the war effort. It is a fairly unusual cinematographic enterprise, directly related to the agenda of total war but also reflecting a more feminist agenda, that of recognising the essential socio-economic contribution of the housewife. Elizabeth Roberts states in conclusion to her book Women’s Work, 1840-1940:

  • 17  Elizabeth Roberts, op.cit., 64-65.

Because the majority of women saw their place as in the home, not just in the inter-war period but throughout the century from 1840-1940, it is important to look at the work done by women in the home, because this remained the most typical work done by working-class women throughout the period. Feminist historians have rightly criticised the historical tendency to define woman’s role in the labour market in terms of her familial role, a process which devalued her paid work. It would be a great pity if conversely woman’s low status in the world of paid work led historians to devalue her valuable and important work as housewife and mother17.

25Down Our Street offers a different example of women’s contribution to the war effort, the creation of a street national savings group. The film ends with the photos of the women’s sons becoming animated and saying in turn: “We need fighters, bombers. Russia needs them too”; “We need ships”; “We must make people see that by saving they are investing in their own country”. So these women contribute, not by going out to work, but by uniting to encourage saving in the street: overcoming class differences and solidarity in the interests of the nation are the main values put forward. “I think perhaps we’ve been too long in calling on each other”, says Mrs Teddington-Barnes and Mrs Brentford adds: “We could have been more neighbourly like, couldn’t we?” The film describes the three women as representative of “Top and bottom and middle of the street”, in other words of the three social classes, as their names also indicate, Mrs Parks being the working class representative. Mr Parks arrives on the scene only once the women have taken their decision. He joins in the enterprise, his daughter saying of him, “The men think a lot of what Dad says” but the women have initiated the action.

26These films all show women in activities they would not have occupied before the war: firstly, in cinema itself – women in the foreground, no longer as the hero’s companion/mistress/wife, but as the genuine central figures, sometimes as unusual “housewife heroines”; secondly, in society – married women in domains where they were not previously predominant, working through the night to bring assistance to the population, sometimes in situations of danger. However, in the films so far discussed it might be objected that apart from their relation to work or to each other and class difference the female protagonists do not alter in a radical manner previous gender roles. Some films do extend the frontiers a little further and one can then begin to ask exactly how far the process may be taken.

How far may women go?

27We saw above that in A Canterbury Tale Alison illustrates women’s entry into the farming world thanks to the Land Army but she represents more than innovation in the domain of employment as she sets about discovering who committed an aggression against her, by smearing glue in her hair, when she arrived in Chittingbourne. In addition to being a Land Girl she turns detective, in her own interests and, more importantly, in those of other women in the village who have undergone the same treatment, without anyone in authority attempting to identify the culprit. Thanks to this initiative she shows that she has more determination than the town constables or the two young soldiers – one British, one American – who arrive in Chittingbourne with her, although the latter agree to assist her in her quest. Alison also shows her emotional and relational independence as we learn that her fiancé’s father has not encouraged their romance (her pilot fiancé is currently reported missing) yet the romance holds true. Meanwhile she engages in open and friendly “camaraderie” with the two soldiers and equally befriends Mr Colepper – lying in a field beside him discussing life (in spite of the fact that he earlier refused to employ her). Alison offers an example of a strong, well-balanced and self-reliant female character: in this, she is a typical British filmic war heroine, atypical in relation to pre-war female characters.

  • 18  Dir. Francis Searle, 8m.

28The recruitment of women into the armed forces suggested the possibility of altering the relationship of women to weapons and to armed conflict. Introducing women on a large scale into the public sphere of the workplace was one thing, breaking what amounted to a taboo on women using arms was another step which many members of the population were not prepared to see being taken. The Ministry of Information [MOI] and Air Ministry film Airwoman18 was designed to encourage women to join the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force). It states that “Behind every operation in the air force is the story of women’s cooperation” and it illustrates the different roles women can play. In the offices, as telephonists and teleprinter operators they take down and carry messages or they hunt out necessary documents. Others prepare the bomber crews’ food rations whilst some carry out repairs on WAAF vehicles. At the beginning of a raid abroad, before any messages arrive from the planes, the women stand by to receive news and pass the time knitting, playing ping pong or reading. The narrating voice tells us: “These young women have come from all parts of the empire. There is a fellowship among them that comes from work done together”. It must however be admitted that they seem to come from the “whiter” parts of the empire, that they do not fly and that they do not touch a weapon.

  • 19  ATS, dir. Hugh Stewart, 7m.

29The equivalent film for the ATS19 (Auxiliary Territorial Service), made by the Army Film Unit, produced by the Ministry of Information and the War Office, shows women doing the usual kind of administrative, office and menial jobs (as typists, telephonists, store clerks, cooks, orderlies) which they were given in each of the armed forces but here they also undertake more varied and “outdoor” work, coming closer to “active” military service. The first jobs shown are those related to transport convoys and the inevitable new recruit who appears in these sorts of films is asked, somewhat to her alarm, how she would feel about driving a lorry. Later in the film, two women, inside, are seen plotting the arrival of enemy planes; two women, outside, keep a look out with field glasses; one girl takes messages in relation to the sighting of planes and another one places the plane positions on a map. When the alarm bell rings out, announcing an enemy raid, men and women, together, run to their posts. A woman spots the plane in the clouds, women and men together calculate the angle of the guns, a woman calls out fire but it is a man who actually fires the gun. In these two official military films, this is as close as women get to weapons. Women are highly efficient, even vital assistants but not Amazons!

  • 20  1940, dir. Brian Desmond Hurst, 7m.
  • 21  1942, dir. Alberto Cavalcanti, 92m.

30There are two other films which are much bolder in the roles women are allowed to play, particularly in relation to weapons – one short “information” film in the docu-drama vein, Miss Grant Went to the Door20, sponsored by the MOI but produced by Denham and Pinewood and one feature film which, along with entertainment, serves propaganda purposes Went the Day Well?21. Both films centre on the arrival of German agents in Britain and both portray women handling firearms, in the case of the latter film, killing some of the enemy.

31In Miss Grant Went to the Door, two middle-aged, rather upper-class ladies are warned by the air-raid warden of an imminent raid but they decide not to go into their shelter. They then see a German soldier through the window and Miss Grant, having gone to open the door, finds him dead. She drags him into the house and takes his gun. The church bells ring announcing plainly that there has been a German “invasion” as church bells were not to ring for the duration of the war except in case of invasion. Before Miss Grant has time to go and tell the police about her discovery there is another knock on the door and a soldier in British uniform appears: he asks for an Ordnance Survey map which will indicate how to get to Yarvis Cross. Miss Grant’s sister, who has been rather incompetent until this point, notices that he mispronounces “Jarvis” as “Yarvis”. Miss Grant immediately realises that he is a German agent, holds him at gun point and instructs her sister to go to the police station to tell them she has detained a German spy. When her sister objects that she cannot stay alone with the two men she retorts: “One of them is dead and the other one will be if he moves”! However, in her sister’s absence the soldier asks twice for a cigarette and on the second occasion Miss Grant, relenting, is less on her guard which enables the soldier to get the gun and to escape. He is later caught by the Civil Defence men and the film ends with Miss Grant and her sister having tea with the chief Civil Defence officer. He congratulates them for their action: “If it hadn’t been for you the Jerries might have got away with it. You kept your heads”. The final words of the film which Miss Grant addresses to the Civil Defence officer are: “More tea?”

  • 22  Turville, Buckinghamshire, in reality.

32Went the Day Well? extends the boundaries in relation to firearms a stage further. The film is set in a tiny village, Bramley End22, isolated from the outside world by leafy lanes and little pastures. It boasts a pretty church, complete with the vicar and his grown-up daughter (Nora Ashton, played by Valerie Taylor), a manor house with its middle-aged proprietress and the evacuee children she is in charge of, a post office, a squire (Oliver Wilsford, played by Leslie Banks), a few villagers, mainly elderly and/or female and a poacher (Bill Purvis, played by Edward Rigby). Unbeknown to all and sundry the village has been chosen as the base for an advance guard of German invaders who, disguised as British soldiers, are to prepare for the arrival of troops on a large scale. They are assisted in their enterprise by the squire who is a traitor. The film is unusual among those produced during the war in that it offers a representation of the Germans although not surprisingly they are shown to be brutal and pitiless. The elderly vicar, who tries to ring the church bells to announce the invasion, is shot dead in the presence of all the villagers, locked up together in the church. The postmistress who tries to contact the outside world by phone is also killed (after she has herself killed a German guard), as is the poacher who serves to divert attention from the young East End evacuee who finally manages to escape from the village to get help. Before assistance arrives, the villagers barricade themselves inside the manor house to try to protect themselves from the enemy troops. As they lock up the house and put furniture in front of all the entrances, Wilsford goes round the house taking away the barricades. Nora, who was, at the start of the film, rather soft on him, realises he is a traitor and, in a very unusual scene for a woman at this time (and indeed for some time to come), shoots him dead. The German troops gather and attempt to storm the house: in this last scene two women help one man to fight off the assault, firing at and killing a number of German soldiers.

  • 23  Graham Greene, “The Lieutenant Died Last. An Unrecorded Victory in 1940”, in Graham Greene, Comple (...)

33The film offers a large number of different roles to women who prove themselves to be resourceful and brave – the postmistress, her assistant, the vicar’s daughter, the lady of the manor, the two “gun women”. Its particular intention to put women in the foreground is fully apparent when one compares the film to the Graham Greene short story which inspired the script, “The Lieutenant Died Last. An Unrecorded Victory in 1940”23. Here, women are barely mentioned and the most important character is the poacher who shoots the German lieutenant. The film’s most spectacular stand in relation to the possibilities for women to change the gender distribution of roles lies in its representation of women taking part in armed combat. It must be noted that when participation of women in Civil Defence and conscription were introduced it was specifically mentioned that the only circumstances in which women could or might be called upon to use firearms would be in the case of invasion. Thus, in fact, the film conforms to the accepted conventions. It is all the same unusual in actually showing women using firearms even in these extreme circumstances: no other film ventured onto this ground.

Tradition: “Beware, male territory!”
Boundaries persist

34In the light of these examples, it is reasonable to speculate on the degree to which traditional gender roles and representations could be disrupted and to point out how a certain degree of conservatism remained. For all her determination and independence of spirit, Alison, in A Canterbury Tale is portrayed as an isolated woman, whose fiancé has gone missing and whose prospective father-in-law does not approve of their relationship. When, at the close of the film, Alison learns that her fiancé has not been killed, her father-in-law, rendered contrite by the thought of losing his son, changes his attitude and accepts her as future daughter-in-law. Indeed, he takes her under his wing, putting his arm on her shoulder as they walk together into Canterbury Cathedral for a service in honour of the troops departing for France. This gesture is of both emotional and symbolic significance as she is taken back under male protection and brought back into the “fold”, a circumstance which seems to indicate that a dose of female independence is salutary but that it corresponds to a temporary state, the approved image being that of the female accepted under male protection.

35Similarly, in Miss Grant Goes to the Door, Miss Grant gets hold of the first German soldier’s pistol and uses it to get the better of the second enemy agent, showing that she is resourceful and brave. However, there are limits to her capacities and a moment of inattention enables the soldier to escape. Fortunately, the male Civil Defence volunteers are not far away and they are able to save the day. Miss Grant’s last line – “More tea?” – is strongly suggestive of accepted gender distributed roles. Once again a female character, who has moved outside the norm, finally adopts a more traditional role.

36Went the Day Well? shows women moving well beyond the established boundaries, yet, even here, it is finally the arrival of the male troops which foils the German plot. Once again the male/female distribution of action reflects traditional roles: it is a male character who “frames” the action by introducing the narrative – the whole story is told retrospectively – and by providing the concluding lines; this means of structuring the narrative gives ultimate cinematographic control to a male figure, in spite of all the action given to women throughout the film. We may therefore conclude that there are boundaries which, if female characters happen to cross them in the course of the film, they are invited to re-cross at the close, in order to adopt a more traditional pose at the conclusion of the narrative.

  • 24  1942, dir. Thorold Dickinson, Ealing Studios, 102m. A full analysis of this film was the subject o (...)

37There are, moreover, additional cases where extremely well-worn, conservative gender stereotypes are given a new and somewhat unexpected airing. The Next of Kin24 is an example of this sort. In this film, the British army is to launch a surprise attack on a French seaport where the Germans are building a submarine base. The success of the operation depends on absolute secrecy being maintained, to prevent the enemy forces from preparing any defence. Nevertheless, as the operation is planned in Britain, little by little, scraps of information are betrayed to the enemy. On each occasion, it is woman who is responsible for the security leak for whenever information is given away to the Germans, it is the result of a British soldier’s weakness for a woman. Some of the women intentionally betray their nation by working for the enemy, encouraging a soldier’s affections to obtain information but others unwittingly or unintentionally divulge intelligence. Some men are also traitors, passing on information, but the source of the leak is always a woman and men’s carelessness is due to the attractions of women. Furthermore, information is always given away in the social context of a meal or, at least, of a drink: one observes thus a reiteration of the archetypal Adam and Eve situation where the man is led astray by the attraction of forbidden fruit. Women constitute a source of danger for the future of the male protagonists, many soldiers, indeed, losing their lives due to the forewarning of the German troops as to the imminence of a British attack. One sees here a re-emergence of the age-old fear of female sexuality. In The Next of Kin, this fear is close to the main core of the narrative. However, one notes equally that in Millions Like Us it is the “pure” young woman Celia who is offered for the spectator’s unqualified approval, who is given the principal role, whereas her sister, Phyllis, who spends a lot of time looking for new boyfriends, is evidently not intended to be greatly admired. Although she seems better able to fend for herself than Celia, she has, finally, to play second fiddle and does not manage to marry a pilot, every girl’s dream of a success story! Thus, “good” behaviour is rewarded, whereas sexual adventure is met with mild disapproval and a relative lack of success. In The Next of Kin,it spells near disaster for national, military, masculine enterprise.

  • 25  See personal accounts in: Mavis Nicholson (ed.), What Did you Do in the War, Mummy? Women in World (...)

38Such supposed dangers gave rise to frequent warnings in wartime and women in the armed forces were often sermonised as to the necessity of “behaving” themselves, of leaving the men alone, etc.25. However essential their contribution to the war effort may have been, their active participation in the public sphere seems to have inspired, on occasion, doubt and fear: their widespread arrival in the labour force, outside the home and in a variety of functions, was sometimes seen as threat to men when the time came, at the close of the war, for the latter to return to civilian employment. Thus, while the films under examination pay homage to the vital roles played by British women during the Second World War and portray the great variety of functions they occupied, they also serve as reminders of where the boundaries of gender innovation lie: gender stereotypes are shaken up but not subjected to a blitz-like onslaught! Although women film protagonists benefited from new roles and new positions in the foreground of filmic action and certainly gained cinematographic advantages from the wartime context, one may ask whether these advantages were of a durable nature.

A post-war future for innovative women’s roles?

  • 26  See Mavis Nicholson, op. cit.

39As we saw from the statistics relating to women’s employment in the first part of this article, by 1948 a large majority of women had left the armed forces and a considerable number had left paid civilian employment. From personal accounts of women’s war, and end-of-war, experiences, it is apparent that some women were pleased to leave the public workplace, whilst others couch their return more in terms of it being their duty as wife or mother to leave their employment for a man or to return to keep the family household26. Nevertheless, there were considerably more women working outside the home in 1948 than in 1938, which gives credibility to the claim that war work did have some more permanent effect for some women.

  • 27  Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, Screen, 16.3, 1975, 6-18.
  • 28 Look Back in Anger (1959), dir. Tony Richardson , from the play by John Osborne; Saturday Night and (...)

40As far as cinema is concerned, no firm conclusion as to the longer-term effects and prolongations of wartime representations of women can be reached, although there were undoubtedly temporary changes. After 1943, the Gainsborough Studios developed a vein of melodrama focusing on women which was extremely popular with female spectators. It could be argued that by placing women in the foreground of the narrative and by providing stories they were keen to watch, these films constituted a positive contribution to the representation of women. However, conversely, it could be maintained that the excesses of melodrama are hardly an ideal vehicle for plausibly promoting innovation. A similar conclusion could be drawn in relation to the other very popular post-war genre, that of film noir, a mainly American genre which achieved great popularity with British audiences. As Laura Mulvey points out, film noir heroines are often punished by destruction27. Due to their strength as characters and as women, they cannot be allowed to survive and remain threat to male characters, women in classical Hollywood cinema always positing, according to Mulvey (quoting Freud), the concept of the fear of castration the female constitutes for the male. It can be argued that, to a certain degree, being so strong that she must be eliminated is an honour to the character and the woman she represents but, all the same, it is not an enviable destiny and a strong male character is not bound to undergo the same radical fate! By the end of the 1960s, British cinema was offering more positive and varied images of the representation of women once again, but in the intervening twenty years largely negative images were offered in “Kitchen sink” or “social realist” productions. During this period, a fairly clearly misogynistic representation of women prevailed28: they were generally portrayed as a hindrance or obstacle to the self-realisation of the male protagonist who, once again, was predominantly in the foreground, leading the action. It could be said, therefore, that the wartime representations did not have any immediate post-war prolongations in the same mode or style. Wartime heroines have a unique, touching and fragile beauty: fragile because, however strong they show themselves to be, we can see in their destinies, often in the closures of the films, the shadow of continuing male prerogatives, a shadow which forewarns indeed of a close to this period of largely positive and dynamic images of women.


41This research into women’s activities and the cinematographic representation of women between 1939 and 1945 shows that a fairly new kind of filmic war heroine was brought into being. She was a character who maintained her feminine attributes, sometimes with negative results, but who, at the same time, took on a new set of characteristics – independence, resourcefulness, resilience. These characters could be friends on an equal footing with male characters and work alongside them in complete naturalness. Women were portrayed in innovative roles, in cinema, just as they occupied innovative functions in real life, but they were not allowed to overstep the boundaries of respectability or, if they did, their action met with disapproval or punishment. We see thus how these films, to a certain extent, reflected what was indeed happening in society but equally how they served the purpose of promoting required, “useful” female behaviour: women would step in where they were needed to release men for other duties, they would serve but not compete unduly, they would maintain traditional feminine attributes – keeping family and social peace, providing welcoming interiors – and they would not encourage sexual exuberance among the male soldiers. While representing new wartime gender roles, the films seem to have carefully prepared the terrain for a return to “order” in peace time.

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CALDER Angus, The Myth of the Blitz,[1991] London: Pimlico, 1995.

CALDER Angus, The People’s War: Britain 1939-1945, [1969] London: Pimlico, 1996.

MULVEY Laura, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, Screen, 16.3, 1975: 6-18.

NICHOLSON Mavis, ed., What Did You Do in the War, Mummy? Women in World War II, London: Pimlico, 1995.

PLAIN Gill, Women’s Fiction of the Second World War: Gender, Power and Resistance, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1996.

ROBERTS Elizabeth, Women’s Work, 1840-1940, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.


Airwoman, dir. Francis Searle, Screen Services Production, sponsor MOI and Air Ministry, 8m.

ATS, dir. Hugh Stewart, Army Film Unit, sponsor MOI and War Office, 7m.

Canteen on Wheels, 1941, dir. Jay Gardner Lewis, Verity Films, sponsor MOI and Empire Tea Board, 10m.

A Canterbury Tale, 1944, dir. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 124m.

Down Our Street, dir. Terence Egan Bishop, sponsor MOI, 6m.

Fires Were Started, 1943, dir. Humphrey Jennings, Crown Film Unit, 63m.

Jane Brown Changes Her Job, 1941, dir. Harold Cooper, Verity Films, sponsor MOI, 9m.

Millions Like Us, 1943, dir. Frank Launder and Sydney Gilliatt, Gainsborough Pictures, 103 m.

Miss Grant Went to the Door, 1940, dir. Brian Desmond Hurst, Denham and Pinewood Studios, sponsor MOI, 7m.

The Next of Kin 1942, dir. Thorold Dickinson, Ealing Studios, 102m.

They Also Serve, 1940, dir. Ruby I. Grierson, Realist, 8m.

Went the Day Well?, 1942, dir. Alberto Cavalcanti, Ealing Films, 92m.

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1  Statistics from Annual Abstract 1939-1948, Ministry of Labour and National Service, Table 112, Labour, Distribution of total manpower (old series).

2  Unemployment statistics from Ministry of Labour, op.cit.

3  Angus Calder, The People’s War: Britain 1939-1945, London: Pimlico, 1996 [1969], 234.

4  Ernest Bevin (1881-1951) Minister of Labour and National Service in Winston Churchill’s coalition government (1940-1945).

5  Angus Calder, op.cit., 268.

6 Ibid., 331.

7 Ibidem.

8 Ibidem.

9 Ibid., 334.

10  The Women’s Land Army began in the First World War and was reconstituted in June 1939.

11  “Attitudes to women’s work in the inter-war years appear to have been little different to those found in earlier generations. It would seem that the majority of people, which included working-class men and women as well as employers and legislators, believed that a woman’s place, and especially a married woman’s place, was in the home, not in the factory, shop or office. Indeed, for the working-class woman, the inter-war period saw a full flowering of the domestic ideology. It is tempting to ask whether this was because of, or in spite of, their working experiences in the First World War. Unmarried women could be expected to work for wages outside the home but this was regarded by women, and by others, as simply a useful way of filling in time until marriage […] Even if a woman had wanted to continue work after marriage this was impossible to do in many jobs, because employers operated a marriage bar. The ban in teaching is well known, but less well known are the policies of individual employers who refused, for example, to employ married shop assistants and typists (these marriage bars are traceable through oral evidence but much more research needs to be done).” Elizabeth Roberts, Women’s Work, 1840-1940, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, 63-64.

12  Men in “protected occupations” were excluded from being called up.

13  It excludes therefore such films as Mrs Miniver made by MGM (US) 1942, in spite of its sympathetic portrayal of the British at war and its popularity with the British public. It also excludes the famous Gainsborough melodramas which, even though they were sometimes set in wartime Britain, referred to or were relevant to war experiences.

14 Millions Like Us (1943, dir. Frank Launder and Sydney Gilliatt, 103 m.);A Canterbury Tale (1944, dir. Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, 124m.); Fires Were Started (1943, dir. Humphrey Jennings, 63m.); They Also Serve (1940, dir. Ruby I. Grierson, 8m.); Canteen on Wheels (1941, dir. Jay Gardner Lewis, 10m.); Jane Brown Changes Her Job (1941, dir. Harold Cooper, 9m.); Down Our Street (dir. Terence Egan Bishop, 6m.).

15  Started by the Marchioness of Reading at the request of the Home Office in order to draw women into the ARP (Air Raid Precautions). 700 members received a monetary grant from the Home Office, typists were paid, 200 key workers received a salary, other members were paid simply their expenses. They bought their own uniforms.

16  It is all the more tragic that she died before British cinema could benefit from more of her innovative points of view. Ruby Grierson was drowned in 1940: she was preparing to make a film on the evacuation of British children to Canada and was on the SS City of Benares, carrying a large number of children to Canada which was sunk by the German navy on 17 September 1940. The subject of evacuation was largely neglected by wartime filmmakers and it is interesting that it should have been Ruby Grierson who was preparing the topic (for the National Film Board of Canada). As with They Also Serve she appears to have been following a quite original personal agenda in her filmmaking.

17  Elizabeth Roberts, op.cit., 64-65.

18  Dir. Francis Searle, 8m.

19  ATS, dir. Hugh Stewart, 7m.

20  1940, dir. Brian Desmond Hurst, 7m.

21  1942, dir. Alberto Cavalcanti, 92m.

22  Turville, Buckinghamshire, in reality.

23  Graham Greene, “The Lieutenant Died Last. An Unrecorded Victory in 1940”, in Graham Greene, Complete Short Stories, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 2005.

24  1942, dir. Thorold Dickinson, Ealing Studios, 102m. A full analysis of this film was the subject of a paper (“Filmic Images of Women and Propaganda: Woman as Man’s greatest Weakness in The Next of Kin”) at the Caen conference on propaganda, 2006: “Médias, idées, propagandes/Media, Ideas, Propaganda”, 19, 20 et 21 octobre 2006.

25  See personal accounts in: Mavis Nicholson (ed.), What Did you Do in the War, Mummy? Women in World War II, London: Pimlico, 1995.

26  See Mavis Nicholson, op. cit.

27  Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, Screen, 16.3, 1975, 6-18.

28 Look Back in Anger (1959), dir. Tony Richardson , from the play by John Osborne; Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), dir. Karel Reisz from the novel by Alan Sillitoe; Loneliness of the Long Distance Ruuner (1962), dir. Tony Richardson from the novel by Alan Sillitoe; Kes (1969), dir. Ken Loach from a novel by Barry Hines. This film is brilliant in its poetic portrayal of the young boy, Billy, and his relationship with the kestrel but the mother figure, uncomprehending of her son, is a typical negative “Kitchen sink” female character.

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Elizabeth de Cacqueray, « Women, war and cinema, 1939-1945: blitz on gender stereotypes? »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. VI – n°4 | 2008, 131-152.

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Elizabeth de Cacqueray, « Women, war and cinema, 1939-1945: blitz on gender stereotypes? »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. VI – n°4 | 2008, mis en ligne le 20 août 2009, consulté le 25 mai 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Elizabeth de Cacqueray

(Université de Toulouse – UTM, France)
Elizabeth de Cacqueray is a Senior Lecturer in France at the Université de Toulouse – Le Mirail where she teaches British Civilisation and Cinema Studies. She is co-founder, with Karen Meschia, of the « Groupe d’études sur le genre », a group within the research team « Cultures Anglo-Saxonnes » at this university. The « Groupe d’études sur le genre », devoted to the study of gender statuses, relations and stereotypes in the English-speaking world, includes members from the fields of sociology, anthropology, history, history of ideas, literature and cinema studies It meets for seminars on a monthly basis and holds a Colloquium annually. During the period 2004-2009 the main focus of the group has been the study of women and conflict/women and war. E. de Cacqueray’s research is centred on representations of women, of the working class and of minority groups in British cinema. She has published a number of articles in these areas and, in particular, on the corpus of British Second World War films, an area she has most recently concentrated on: “British Cinema and Society at War (Sept. 1939-Aug. 1945)”, with R. Costa de Beauregard, in La Société anglaise en guerre: septembre 1939-août 1945, Ellipses, 1996 ; Women and War Films (1939-1945): Signs of Emancipation or Cases of Manipulation?, La Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. IV n°3, 2006.

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