Southern Cross film 'The Woman Suffers' (1918) , made in Adelaide, a feminist melodrama

A scene from The Woman Suffers, starring Lottie Lyell, the 1918 melodrama made in Adelaide for South Australia's Southern Cross Feature Film Company.

Made in Adelaide and the first financed by South Australia’s Southern Cross Feature Film Company, The Woman Suffers (1918) was an important and controversial film in its time, and remains one of the most significant Australian silent features.

Directed by Raymond Longford, it starred his partner Lottie Lyell and has been called Australia’s first feminist feature film. The film is a full-scale melodrama of town and country, with sumptuous settings and high fashions, entwined with a highly moral story on a familiar theme: ruination of a woman by a man.

The film, in eight acts, includes many outrages – from the drunken wife-beater husband through to two young men who seduce and abandon women, causing one to suicide and the other to attempt an abortion. All the women in the film are sympathetically depicted.

The Woman Suffers opened in March 1918 at the Theatre Royal, Adelaide, to good box office results and rave reviews. It opened in Sydney in August to good houses and ran for seven weeks but this came to an abrupt halt in October when the New South Wales chief secretary banned further screenings, without giving reasons.

The Woman Suffers was popular in other states. Its success allowed Longford and Lyell to begin work on their next film, The Sentimental Bloke (1919), also for the Southern Cross Feature Film Company and based on the book by South Australian-born author C.J. Dennis. The Sentimental Bloke has been described as the crowning achievement of Longford and Lyell’s careers, and of all Australian silent films.

Marilyn Dooley reconstructed The Woman Suffers in the early 1990s at the National Film and Sound Archive and two thirds of it survive. The Woman Suffers gives a way of assessing just how advanced tLongford and Lyell's filmmaking technique had become by 1918.


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