TV Review: Lively romp takes liberties with history

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Ringing true: As Kate Sheppard, Sara Wiseman presents the suffragette's story. Photo / Supplied
Ringing true: As Kate Sheppard, Sara Wiseman presents the suffragette's story. Photo / Supplied

On September 19, 1893 New Zealand women were given the vote. Hooray! For the women, in particular one Kate Sheppard, who had worked so hard and for so long - they were knocked back twice after the bill made it through the lower house but was chucked out of the upper - you'd think a glass of bubbles might have been in order.

But they were a rigidly abstinent lot, the suffragettes, aligned with the temperance movement and God. Votes for Women: What Really Happened (last Sunday, TV1) still managed to be a rather jolly romp through a version of what really happened that had the benefit of ringing true. Kate Sheppard's idea of a party was unfermented grape juice and raw vegetables (vegetarianism was a fad) or a nice cup of tea. There was also a fad for cycling, which was taken up with gung-ho enthusiasm by the suffragettes.

You had to wonder what cycling had to do with emancipation, but you didn't have to wonder for too long.

A clever device of shooting this fictionalisation of the fight for votes as if it was a fly-on-the-wall documentary meant that questions, asked by the unseen documentary maker, could be asked and answered.

So what was the connection between cycling and women's rights? "Just as the wheel of the bicycle gives me a larger world to live in, so the wheel of progress gives me a larger world to think in," was the response from the delightfully dotty young suffragette Katrine Walker (played with a huge sense of fun by Antonia Prebble). Katrine and her fella, James, are a delightful addition to a terrific cast. They refused to marry, spoke in unison, and were great supporters of an outfit called the Rational Dress Association. "Knickerbockers for everyone!" was their catch-cry. "You get a wonderful range of movement!"

They were a strange lot, those women, but not as strange as the men, a whiskery, crusty lot whether they were supporters or opponents. Sheppard (Sara Wiseman) was in love with a man (or he was in love with her; she is, here, a coolish character) who was not her husband. Will Lovell-Smith was known as the Man with Two Wives, and trailed around after Kate, printing her pamphlets and petitions, and generally worshipping her. He must have spent some time at home with the much put-upon, and plain Mrs Lovell-Smith, who was, amazingly, equally supportive of Kate. The Lovell-Smiths produced 10 children, of whom five were girls and who, tellingly or not, never married.

After Sheppard was divorced from her whiskery husband - who is little seen - she moved in with the Lovell-Smiths and lived with them for 30 years. After his wife died, she and Will married. He died four years later. Which is a funny old love story and makes for a bit of a frisson. (A bit! He kissed her hand once and that was as frissony as it got.)

This was excellent stuff: informative and lively, and it should be shown again, especially to young ladies who may have no idea of what ever happened, let alone what really did. (Does it take liberties? Of course it does. Who cares? Not me.)

There is another sort of historical moment on television tonight, on Coronation Street. I am certainly not going to be so foolish as to say what it is. I once announced in this column that somebody on Corrie was about to die and, even though this had been announced in all of the promos (as is tonight's ending), I got a lot of mail from people who wished me dead instead.

So, all I'll say is: Goodbye to one of the very last of the great Corrie characters and now that he's gone, that's probably goodbye too to a once much-loved soap for me, I'm sad to say.

-TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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