Why I made my new Channel 4 drama The Change, or, We Need to Talk About The Menopause
The comedian and screenwriter Bridget Christie is putting a new type of heroine on screen, in a new type of love story
Written by Bridget Christie in Evening Standard on June 19th, 2023
I wanted to write a show in which a middle-aged, working-class, married mum and wife (Linda) decides to take back some of the time she’s spent doing “invisible” work around the house. She heads off on a journey of self-discovery and adventure to the Forest of Dean – and doesn’t have sex once she gets there. Not that I’m anti-sex, although I was brought up Catholic, but it was really important to me that this wasn’t a show about a break up, but about a woman’s relationship with herself.
Time is a big theme in the show – how we spend it, and whose is more valuable. Linda’s chore ledger, in which she has been writing down all the housework she’s done over the past 25 years or so, and how long it’s taken her, becomes a metaphor for life and how we live it.
The Forest of Dean, near where I grew up in Gloucester, is a breathtakingly beautiful part of the country and I’ve always wanted to film there, so The Change is a love letter to women and to the Forest of Dean. I really hope women and foresters don’t all hate it when it goes out, because then I’ll have to find somewhere else to go on holiday.
An early influence on the show was Shirley Valentine, so I put it in the original pitch, “Shirley Valentine meets Deliverance.” It was only when I started talking about Willy’s Russell’s ground-breaking film (adapted from his one-woman play) in more depth, with the all-female commissioners at Channel 4 and my producers at Expectation Entertainment, that we realised the glaring, gaping hole on our screens.
Shirley Valentine’s narrative arc was the one that most resembled Linda’s own – and Shirley Valentine was made in 1989! And she wasn’t even over 50, or menopausal! She was only 42! How can it be that we still don’t have an instantly recognisable menopausal role model in TV or film, except The Hulk?
I’m not arrogant enough to think that that’s what we’ve got in Linda, but surely there’s space for more than two middle-aged women going off and finding themselves in the space of 34 years? I will now no doubt be flooded with examples of female characters over 50 doing just that, and I hope I am, and that I look stupid and ignorant, but even if you can find loads, we don’t see them struggling with symptoms, or talking about it.
And when we do have strong, middle-aged female characters, such as Judi Dench’s M in James Bond, they’re never sweating or getting their assassins mixed up, or finding themselves unable to remember words like “gadget” or “spy” or “misogynist.” I don’t think I saw a single fan on Judi Dench’s desk in seven films? Do write in if you spotted one. Perhaps Barbara Broccoli should’ve brought me in as a writing consultant? “Menopause it up a bit?”
We all want to see ourselves represented on screen and menopause affects every single woman on the planet. It’s ludicrous it isn’t more visible. I realise I’m in the very unusual position of seeing myself represented on screen by myself, as I cast myself as Linda, which is already making me feel much better, because I can see what I’m doing wrong, in terms of managing my symptoms.
For example, in one scene, I’m in my caravan sweating, but I haven’t opened the caravan door, which I could do to let some air in. So watching The Change is already helping me manage my symptoms better, and I hope it helps other women too.
But I’m not just watching myself in my own show. Cutting down on coffee and Tupperware and not sitting there quietly tolerating annoying or offensive people helps my symptoms too, and aside from the hot flushes and the brain fog and the heart palpitations and the ringing in my ears and the stiff joints and the skin breakouts and the passata-tsunami-like periods I was getting before they stopped altogether, my menopause has been a revelation.
I recognise this is not the case for a lot of women. Menopause is not a universal experience. We all have our own unique transitions and many friends have found it physically and mentally debilitating, which this is both tragic and unnecessary. We need more support from the government and the medical profession and from our loved ones and colleagues.
But I decided, quite early on, to seize control of mine, to see it as something exciting and new, and with that depletion in oestrogen came a rebirth, a realisation; a reimagining, if you will, of my entire outlook on life. One that is liberated, positive, self-loving and confident. One of a woman who sees her time as just as valuable as that of others.
Linda’s chore ledger isn’t just a document of lost time; a record of thankless, unpaid, unseen labour. It’s an indictment of how we live, and how we treat our loved ones behind closed doors.
If we love our mothers and wives, why aren’t we sharing the load? I see women, especially wives and mothers, often putting themselves – and their time – last. Theirs is always the last meal to plate up, she’s always the last one to sit down, the last one out of the door. But in many ways, her time is the MOST valuable, as she is often cramming so much into it.
Watching the show again recently I was struck by how radical it felt. It didn’t feel like that during the writing process, but seeing it up on the big screen, as a viewer, at a screening last week, I realised that Linda’s story is not one we see very often, at all. A loving wife and mother heading off on her own and taking back time that was legitimately hers to begin with and, crucially, not feeling guilty.
I hope that women, up and down the country, will see this as a clarion call to take some of their own time back. Or at least to make a chart, divvying up all the chores.
And I hope The Change starts a conversation about the invisibility of the menopause in comedy and drama. I hope it gets to the stage where a new test is born, similar to The Bechdel Test, that asks if two named middle-aged female characters talk to each other about something other than the menopause, because we have reached a point where that’s all middle-aged female characters talk about.
Written by Bridget Christie in Evening Standard on 19th June 2023.
Filed Under: The Change