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Title: The fabric of femininity : costume and stardom in contemporary British films of the 1940s
Author: Butt, Elizabeth Doreen
ISNI:       0000 0001 3512 8133
Awarding Body: University of Reading
Current Institution: University of Reading
Date of Award: 2009
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This study highlights the vital work of the costume designer in selected contemporary British films of the 1940s. Despite the important function that their designs played within the narratives, it has still not been fully recognised that the costume designer held a key position in the teams responsible for the creation ofthe visual aspects in the production of these historically important films. This study is, ! therefore, an attempt to redress the balance, and it investigates the work ofthe British costume designer through primary source material that reveals their codes of practice that they carried out in the course oftheir design work. Some of the costumes in the films were created by haute couture designers, and a comparison with the costume designer is carried out. Liaison between the costume designers and the female stars was crucial, so the performance style ofthe actors is integrated with the discussion ofthe design work. The twelve films selected for analysis comprise six from the oeuvre ofEaling Studios and six from Gainsborough Pictures. The films illustrate the different ways in which costume constructs the identity ofthe female characters in each film in a synthesis with the stars to support the narrative. For instance, in Frieda (Basil Dearden, 1947) and Cage ofGold (Basil Dearden, 1950) the two main female protagonists in each film undergo a transformation ofidentity. Class identity is clearly defined through the costumes in Went the Day Well? (Alberto Cavalcanti, 1942), Millions Like Us (Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, 1943) Waterloo Road (Sidney Gilliat, 1944), Love Story (Leslie Arliss, 1944) and Miranda (Ken Annakin, 1948). In these films the costume designers selected mass produced garments for the working class female characters and haute couture designer wear to secure the status ofthe upper class characters. Overt sexuality is highlighted in The Next ofKin (Thorold Dickinson, 1942), Two Thousand Women (Frank Launder, 1944) and Against the Wind (Charles Crichton, 1948) through the style ofcostume and the excessive accessories worn by some ofthe female characters. In The Halfway House (Basil Dearden, 1944) and The Root of All Evil (Brock Williams, 1947) the costume designers do not adhere to the correct codes of costume practice and ambiguities exist in the identity of some ofthe female characters. In the analysis of the films, the study addresses many significant historical issues in relation to filmmaking and femininity at the time. With regard to fil1nmaking, the analysis covers the attempts to create a British national cinema with 'reference to the output of contemporary critics and later film studies historians. In relation to femininity, the study addresses contemporary writing and later critical discourses around women at work and their inclusion in a consensual national identity, class issues, and problems in relation to the projection offemininity both during the war and the post-war period when the New Look hit the streets. Many of the female characters in the narratives of the films embodied these concerns, and it is the creations ofthe costume designers that specifically worked to reinforce narrative ideas. Although the haute couture designers were feted and their names placed in press releases, the names ofthe costume designers were not. The prime intention ofthis study, therefore, is to bring the names of the costume designers to the greater attention ofthe academic world and argue for their significance at a vital moment in British film history.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available