January 2, 2017


Jill Craigie (1914-1999) b. Fulham, London.

Jill Craigie

Jill Craigie was one of the first women directors and essentially a committed socialist documentarist. Her parents were divorced while she was an infant. Her father was subsequently killed during the First World War and her mother, a Russian refugee, went to live abroad. Consequently, Craigie’s unhappy childhood and her haphazard education involved no fewer than 13 boarding schools. Aged 19, she married alcoholic sculptor Claude Begbie-Clench, and had a daughter, Julie, but the marriage did not last. Whilst collaborating on the screenplay The Flemish Farm (1943), she met and married screenwriter-director Jeffrey Dell, the union was fleeting but Dell gave her introductions with producers Two Cities that launched her career. Consequently, Two Cities produced Craigie’s first documentary, Out of Chaos (1944), focusing on artists in wartime, and her landmark documentary The Way We Live (1946), a rive study of a family emerging from the ruins of Plymouth. In 1948, Craigie spent a year in the Welsh mining village of Abergwynfi and made Blue Scar (1948), a film that won the admiration of the documentary film profession. Despite being rather distrustful of marriage, in 1949 she married for a third time to Labour politician Michael Foot. Craigie had always been a strong feminist – and in 1951 she made To Be a Woman (1951), a propaganda film for the Equal Pay Campaign arguing the case for equal pay for women. However, the golden age of the documentary film was drawing to a close and in the 1950s Craigie changed tack to write screenplays for Rank feature films. One of these was Ronald Neame’s commercial success The Million Pound Note (1954), based on a story Mark Twain. In 1957 she followed it with another Neame film; Windom’s Way, an interesting exploration of rival fanaticisms of the Left and Right. She also worked on the script to Norman Wisdom’s Trouble in Store but she refused to accept a credit. In latter years she became more involved with her book on the suffragette movement and a campaigner for CND.

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