The most profound finale of the year: why menopause comedy The Change is life-affirming TV
Bridget Christie’s glorious sitcom tackles everything from sexism to the climate crisis. It gives us a sorely needed onscreen role model and its ending is gorgeous. Roll on season two!
Written by Hollie Richardson in The Guardian on July 6th, 2023
Into the woods … Susan Lynch, Bridget Christie and Sonny Charlton in The Change. Photograph: Channel 4
Every woman’s relationship with her fertility is unique, but – in a world that has always valued a female based on what is happening with her womb – there is a trajectory most of us recognise. As teenagers, we are terrified of getting pregnant. For a small window in our 20s, we are allowed the luxury of choice – pregnancy feels so easy that we can “leave it until later”. But we hit 30 and suddenly “later” becomes today. We are told to hurry up and have a baby before it’s too late. With each year that passes, so too do our options. Then comes the menopause – more than 400 periods later, they begin to stop, only to be replaced for many by unpleasant symptoms.
In recent years, television has started to explore this wild, wonderful, infuriating, mind-boggling and, at times, horribly unfair journey. But it’s only now that the later chapters are being told – in the likes of The Change (Channel 4), the debut comedy series from Bridget Christie. The 51-year-old comedian, who also performs standup shows about going through the menopause, has created a tale that both scrutinises and celebrates the experience. It is shot through with the kind of nuance that can only come from somebody who has been in the thick of it.
In The Change, Christie plays Linda, who, at her 50th birthday party, tells her older sister about feeling invisible at work – only for her sister to ignore her. She then goes to her GP thinking she has early-onset dementia. “Ringing in ears when stressed, anxiety, depression and a strange mental disorder involving loss of nouns,” are some of her symptoms, which her doctor says are, in fact, signs of the menopause. She sees this as a turning point and, after tallying up all the “invisible work” she has done for her lazy husband and ungrateful kids over the years, decides to get on her motorbike and go on an adventure to the Forest of Dean, where she hid a time capsule in a tree as a child. The capsule, she says, will remind her who she is.
One of the reasons that The Change is such an important piece of TV is made clear in a meta moment from episode one. Linda writes in a note to her husband: “The Hulk is the only menopausal role model in the history of TV and film.” She is not far off. The only other immediate small screen examples are Charlotte York’s perimenopausal blood leak in last year’s And Just Like That, and the previous year’s excellent Davina McCall: Sex, Myths & Menopause Channel 4 documentary. Research by University College London earlier this year found that more than 90% of postmenopausal women were never taught about the menopause at school, with more than 60% only starting to look for information once symptoms started. This, along with the fact that the menopause is still massively understudied – despite women going through it since, well, for ever – is a call for more menopausal women on the screen.
Christie answers it in the most wonderful way. Linda’s time in the woods is joyous to watch – it’s surreal, gorgeous, poignant, laced with paganism and, crucially, very funny. It’s hard to find anything else to compare it to. The comedian tackles everything from sexism to the climate crisis, community, gender identity and capitalism. The last two episodes bring everything together to create the most profound TV finale of the year (no small feat, considering that Succession and Happy Valley also reached a conclusion in 2023).
As Linda and her new female friends – the weird but good-hearted “eel sisters” (Monica Dolan and Susan Lynch) and straight-talking local radio DJ Joy (Tanya Moodie) – prepare decorations and costumes for the highly anticipated annual Eel Festival in the forest, they flow through conversations we are all part of.
“Why do women always have to explain why they haven’t got kids?” asks Linda. “Being a mother and not being a mother is not how I define myself.” Then there’s “Mutton dressed as lamb … another derogatory term just for women. Is there an equivalent term for an older man who dresses young?”. “A cunt,” is the reply. “I forgot the word plunger and said ‘shit sucker’ to the plumber,” says Joy, as they discuss menopausal word loss. Linda underlines the loveliness of such trusting and candid exchanges: “I think you’re all really beautiful, by the way.”
On the day of the Eel Festival, when Linda becomes the first Eel Queen – wearing a magnificent headdress that makes her “feel more myself than I have in years” – such moving moments continue to make you think, weep and laugh. The day’s procession honours a woman’s journey from puberty to menopause and rebirth. “May all your transitions be joyful!” Linda declares, as they run and dance through the woods, stopping at stations that represent each milestone. “Don’t wait until you’re 50 until you love yourself,” she tells a teenager while crowning her. “I feel powerful, like I’ve joined a club of cool, wise, brilliant women. And I see them. I see you,” she also tells a fellow fiftysomething as she places a crown on her head.
Linda also recognises that, for one in three women, menopause isn’t the freeing experience she has had. This is just one woman’s story that barely scratches the surface of something we will all go through in different ways. But, it captures a part of life that has been ignored for so long in a way that makes you sit up and watch.
“I find the fact that my reproductive life is over quite liberating, like a return to form,” Christie said last month. “There was this middle section that was all about, whether we know it or not, ‘attractiveness’, or having relationships, and I feel that that’s gone. The Bridget I was when I was a child, before I had my periods – I feel more like that person now.” We witness this happening to Linda on screen, and it is so glorious that it has the power to revert you to childhood and who you really are in moments. Bring on season two; this story is only just getting started.
Written by Hollie Richardson in The Guardian on 6th July 2023.
Filed Under: The Change