The Old Woman and some British Comedies.

Whisky Galore (1949) was shown on the TV at the approach to Xmas. A very male comedy where Georges’ mother, a controlling bigot with no redeeming features, treats her adult son like a naughty child.   The part is played by Jean Cadell aged 64. The film was directed by  Alexander Mackendrick who also directed The Ladykillers (1955). Mrs. Wilberforce played by Katie Johnson aged 77, is the old-fashioned, naive, dotty, ineffectual old woman.  The two stereotypical characters  could not be more different.  It brings me back to my opinion that any generalisation (not based on thorough research) about the representation of the old woman in cinema can be misleading.   See posts of  Oct 2009  for an analysis of the Ladykillers and July 2012 about Alive and Kicking. 

In 1959 Alive and Kicking came out and in 1960 Make Mine Mink was released .  Athene Seyler was 71, Sybil Thorndike 77, Kathleen Harrison 67 and Estelle Winwood 76.  It is not my intention in this blog to consider the old women in British comedies as I am aware that the subject deserves research and close attention.  But I would like to share my observations. The well-known pantomime grotesque old woman is not the only representation of old women in British films. The age of the actors shows that the current flurry of films featuring ageing women is not a new phenomenon. But above all I would like to point out that in three of the four films mentioned, the old woman is part of a group. I  delighted in Mrs. Wilberforce’s gathering of friends, the intergenerational team work in Make Mine Mink, and the cooperation  between the three women (notwithstanding the class differences) in Alive and Kicking.  

In these films the humour often derives from the ageist assumptions that other characters have towards the stereotypes, thus subverting them.

 If you are after feel-good films about older women seek these titles. They are not great films but worth viewing for the unusual representation of the old woman as a social being. 

About rinaross

Born in 1935. MA in Film and Television Studies at the University of Westminster 1998. Studying the representation of older women in film since then.
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1 Response to The Old Woman and some British Comedies.

  1. vigo says:


    ‘ Mrs. Wilberforce played by Katie Johnson aged 77, is the old-fashioned, naive, dotty, ineffectual old woman. ‘


    …..However she wasnt that naive and she wasnt ineffectual since it is her ‘old fashioned’ morality and her resoluteness not to be swayed that in great part leads to the downfall of the gang. Isnt the tag of ‘dotty’ an ageist assumption – ? certainly the other characters (such as the policeman see her that way and the humour derives from the fact that we the audience realise she is not, and is far more canny. The point you miss is that Mrs.Wilberforce (even in the decision to use the name ?) is representative of an older resolute moral order.
    Her resoluteness proves to be the gangs downfall so ‘ineffectual’ is the last thing you could say about her.

    The use of the term ‘stereotype’ is problematic and lazy given that in divorcing the character from the genre and comic effect of the film implies a lack of character depth and nuance – where in fact there are more subtleties.

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