Mothers of the Revolution review – emotional return to Greenham Common

With stirring testimony on offer from the organisers of the groundbreaking women’s peace camp, this doc doesn’t need its superfluous dramatic recreations

If ever there was a film guaranteed to bring a tear to the eye of sentimental Guardian readers of a certain age, it’s this one. Essentially, it’s a straight-up talking-heads-and-archive-footage documentary about the Greenham Common women’s peace camp as told by some of the activists who were there, with a few dramatic recreations knitted in. These acted bits, shot on setups that mimic the look of early 1980s video footage and grainy Super 8, aren’t necessarily badly made, and in fact are almost convincing at moments as fake archive footage. But they do lower the tone and cheapen Briar March’s earnest, unabashedly emotional chronicle, which throws a long-overdue spotlight on a chapter in the history of civil disobedience.

Narrated by none other than former MP Glenda Jackson, who provides a voice-of-God coherence to the story, the film tracks how the protest started as a march organised by, among others, Karmen Thomas, a mother who was shocked by the government’s absurd Protect and Survive campaign which promulgated the idea that people could save themselves in four minutes from a nuclear attack. At one point, she tells a great story about arriving at Greenham with others planning to chain themselves to the fence, only to be met by a policeman who assumed Thomas and comrades were cleaners arriving to work at the base rather than protest. Other interviewees include Rebecca Johnson, who discovered she had a knack for communicating and advocating in public, and Chris Drake, who ended up coming out as a lesbian while at Greenham. Forced to decide whether to let her ex-husband have custody of her kids or have them put into care when she went to jail, Drake had to make a crushing choice that she describes with dignity and not a scrap of self-pity.

Some readers are likely to quibble with other aspects of the film. For starters, there’s hardly any discussion of the role of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the Greenham protest, while elsewhere short shrift is given to the protest’s emphasis on female exclusivity. The part of the film that emphasises the movement’s ties to protesters in Russia such as Olga Medvedkova feels a little over-egged in order to tie into an anecdote Johnson tells at the end about Mikhail Gorbachev. But it’s obvious this rich subject could have generated many more hours of documentary than just the 100-odd minutes it manages here.

• Mothers of the Revolution is released on 18 October on digital platforms.


Leslie Felperin

The GuardianTramp

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