The Women’s Institute movement started in Britain in 1915. One of its latest additions is a group in Yarmouth, on the Isle of Wight, launched in 2006 and headed up by Amy Willcock. At 38, Amy is twenty years younger than the average WI member and is horrified by the stereotypical grey-haired image. She is determined to modernise the WI by “pushing the boundaries” and adding a bit of “stardust and glamour”.
Amy and her best friend Bunny have corralled everyone they know into joining their new WI, which – remarkably – quickly becomes the biggest group in the country. Amy’s ladies meet in the Royal Solent Yacht Club and have invited a ‘divorce lawyer to the stars’ to talk at one of their monthly meetings (much to the disgust of some husbands). But Amy hasn’t quite bargained for what it takes to implement change in an established organisation with 90 years of tradition.
This film follows Amy’s determined attempts to establish a new generation of WI, from a very polite protest against excess packaging outside the local supermarket to an extravagant champagne-fuelled fundraiser, and offers a rare glimpse into a world of well-heeled women of a certain age.
In the heart of the magnificent Yorkshire Dales, the ladies of Gunnerside WI are preparing something special to celebrate their 60th year. Group treasurer Janet, a dynamic businesswoman, wants to lead them out into the surrounding countryside with an ambitious day of outdoor activities ominously entitled ‘One Of Our Sheep Is Missing’.
Retired school-teacher, Mary, lives and breathes the WI. She used to be an active member of Gunnerside WI, but ever since she was passed over for the presidency she hasn’t been to a meeting.
In an attempt to bring Mary back into the fold, Janet tries to get her involved in the celebrations. But Mary has serious reservations and their differences of opinion lead to an unforeseen outcome.
This is a funny, poignant film about personalities and relationships in a small community, delicately exploring the space the WI fills in the lives of its members.
This film centres on Denman College, the WI’s residential learning centre, housed in a magnificent Georgian house set in 17 acres of garden and often described by WI members as its ‘jewel in the crown’. Named after the first national WI chairman (sic) Lady Denman, it is the epitome of the organisation’s core belief in education for all its members.
Women from the length and breadth of the country come to Denman to learn, but also to socialise, relax and have fun. The film introduces us to some of these women and finds out who they are. Doris tells a tale of two unhappy marriages survived with the help of her strong spirit, Susan is at a crossroads, 50 last year, and with her children now grown up, her time has come at last, but what should she do? Dorothy and Liz are very different characters with very different backgrounds – maybe that’s why they like each other so much. Each tale is narrated by the women themselves and is touching, poignant and at times funny.
Interweaved among them is the story of the Denman Committee’s chairman, Anne. Newly elected Anne is determined to give the drawing room and bar a make-over. But first she has to convince the WI’s formidable Denman Committee that this is how precious funds should be spent. That’s assuming they can agree on a colour scheme.
This insight into some of the characters who pass through the college provides an intimate look at some of the 213,000 women who make up the much-loved WI.
A Century Films production for BBC 4
3 x 59 minutesNarratorMichael Pennington Original MusicStephen CracknellAdditional PhotographyMichael TimneyHead of ProductionJane NicholsonAssistant ProducerJeanette BellExecutive ProducersKatie BailiffRuth PittDirected, Filmed & Produced byShona Thompson (Programme 1)Ben Anthony (Programmes 2 & 3)
"A rib tickling documentary."The Metro
"A summery series"The Guardian
"Warm and humorous"The Telegraph
"[A] fun, sly documentary"The Times