Female Filmmakers


Filmmaker Feature by Kieran Freemantle

The historical drama Suffragette is coming out this week, a drama about the campaign for women who fought to get the vote. It is a film with that has an all star film cast with the likes of Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep and has plenty of women working behind the camera, being directed by Sarah Gavron, written by Abi Morgan and produced by Alison Owen and Faye Ward. Reviews so far have been mostly positive.


Despite the triumph of Suffragette, women are unrepresented in the film industry especially in roles behind-the-camera. Only 14% of British films are directed by women from 2009 to 2013 and 26% of film crew members are female. Yet there are still successful female British directors working on film and television, and to celebrate, we look at the some of the best female directors from the UK.

6. Sharon Maguire

Welsh lass Sharon Maguire is a director with one of the most successful films to be made by a British female director Bridget Jones's Diary, making over $281 Million at the box-office and earning Renée Zellweger numerous Best Actress nominations, including at the Oscars and the BAFTAs.

Maguire was born in Aberystwyth and attended the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, gaining a degree in English and Drama. She later attained a PGCE teaching qualification and a journalism post-graduate degree from City University, London. Maguire worked as a researcher before working as a documentary director and producer for the BBC and Bridget Jones's Diary was her first feature film debut. Maguire was friends with author Helen Fielding in real life and the character of Shazza was based on the director.


Following Bridget Jones's Diary Maguire made the drama Incendiary about a woman who loses her husband and son during a terrorist attack at the Emirates Stadium. It was met with negative reviews, with most the criticisms being aimed at the script. She is currently filming a third "Bridget Jones's" film.

5. Sam Taylor-Johnson

Sam Taylor-Johnson was a very successful artist, known for her photography and video displays before she turned her hand to directing. Like many directors Taylor-Johnson started by making short films with her short Love You More winning Best British Short at the British Independent Film Awards and nominated for others including at the BAFTAs and Cannes Film Festival. Love You More gave actress Andrea Riseborough an early role.

Love You More was a music themed short about two teenagers being drawn to each other when listening to the Buzzcocks song of the same name. Her debut feature film was also musically themed, a bio-pic about the teenage life of John Lennon, focusing on his relationships with his aunt who raised him and mother who returned to Liverpool. Nowhere Boy was an excellent film, particularly for Beatles fans and had a big name cast that included Kristin Scott Thomas, Anne-Marie Duff and Taylor-Johnson's future husband, Aaron.

Following Nowhere Boy Taylor-Johnson adapted the popular novel Fifty Shades of Grey. Though a big hit, it is the third most successful film by a female director, Fifty Shades of Grey was reviled by critics, many having their knives out due to the poor quality of the book. Taylor-Johnson herself hated working on the film, clashing with author E. L. James and turned down the opportunity to direct the sequel because of it.


4. Hettie MacDonald

Hettie MacDonald is best known as a television director working on various shows like Poirot, Fortitude, Casualty and The Tunnel and most importantly Doctor Who. MacDonald directed the episode "Blink", often regarded as the best episode of the modern era being the episode that introduced The Weeping Angels and gave Carey Mulligan a big early role. It was a very atmospheric episode that expertly used the premise that The Weeping Angels can only move when no-one can see them and had an excellent script by Steven Moffat. MacDonald has recently directed the Doctor Who ninth season opener "The Magician's Apprentice" and "The Witch's Familiar".

MacDonald has made one feature film, Beautiful Things in 1996. Beautiful Things was a comedy-drama and a coming-of-age story about two teenage boys in London who embark a sexual awakening with each other. It was a critically well received film, having a 90% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 7.8 out of 10 IMDB.

3. Gurinder Chadha

Gurinder Chadha is both one of the most successful British female directors and British Indian directors, best known for comedies based around families and her heritage. Chadha was educated at the University of East Angela and London College of Printing (now London College of Communication) and started her career as a BBC reporter before turning to filmmaking.


Chadha is best known for directing the 2002 hit Bend It Like Beckham, a popular comedy about a teenage British-Indian woman who is a skilled footballer but is torn between her Indian upbringing and the English culture she grew up in. It was the film that made Keira Knightley into a star and a hit internationally, being the most successful Indian themed film in America and was the first Western film allowed to be released in North Korea.

As well as Bend It Like Beckham, Chadha has adapted Louise Rennison popular young-adult novels, making Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging, a teenage film that made over £10 Million at the British box-office. It was a film that provided early roles for Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Eleanor Tomlinson and Georgia Henshaw.

Chadha's debut film, the comedy Bhaji on the Beach was nominated for a BAFTA for Best British Film and the Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Newcomer to British Cinema. Her Bollywood style version of Pride and Prejudice, Bride and Prejudice was a commercial hit and well received by critics. Her next film is going to be a change of tact for Chadha, Viceroy's House, a historical drama about the life of Lord Mountbatten and his staff during the Partition of India.

2. Lynne Ramsay

Scottish filmmaker is one of the best known female directors from the UK and highly respected by critics and filmmaking peers, often being praised by actors she has worked with. Ramsay studied photography at Naiper College, Edinburgh before attending the National Film and Television School, graduating in 1995.

Ever since her early days as a professional filmmaker, Ramsay has been an award winning filmmaker, her graduation film Small Deaths won the Cannes Prix de Jury Prize in 1996 and won a second Cannes Prix de Jury Prize for her third short Gasman, as well as a Scottish BAFTA.


Ramsay is known for her ability to combine a gritty ascetic with an art-house sensibility, as evident with her debut feature Ratcatcher and the adaptation of We Need to Talk About Kevin. Both were films centred round a violent event and how it effects the main characters, while Ramsay injected artistic flourishes during the run time.

Ramsay was attached to adapted The Lovely Bones, her version being a much looser adaptation of the novel. She described her version being like Hamlet, seeing the ghost of Susie only through her father’s eyes. But Ramsay left the project when producers demanded a more faithful adaptation. Ramsay also left the filming of the Western Jane Got a Gun because of troubles with the productions.

Ramsay has also served as a jury member for the 2013 Cannes Film Festival and 2015 Venice International Film Festival.

1. Andrea Arnold

Andrea Arnold is a former actress and TV presenter who worked mostly on children’s television, becoming a director later in life, known for her dark dramas. Arnold studied directing at the AFI Conservatory in Los Angeles and learned screenwriting at the PAL Lab workshops in Kent - workshops designed for professionals in the industry.

Arnold directing career started in the short film circuit and her 2003 short Wasp, starring Natalie Press and Danny Dyer, won the Academy Award for Best Short Film. She made her feature film debut three years later with the very grim drama Red Road that was set to be part of a loose trilogy called “Advance Party”. Her follow-up Fish Tank won the Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival and won the Best British Film Award at the BAFTAs, a drama that starred Katie Jarvis (who was cast because a casting assistant saw her arguing with her boyfriend), a teenage tearaway from a council estate in Ess

ex and her relationship with her mum’s boyfriend (Michael Fassbender). Arnold also adapted Wuthering Heights, a film that was praised for its acting, its bleak tone and handheld cinematography, using the 4:3 ratio.

Arnold has also directed two episodes of the comedy-drama series Transparent and she has recently made her first American set film American Honey, starring Shia LaBeouf.

Watch the Trailer for Suffragette below...


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