University of Worcester Worcester Research and Publications

The Iron Lady and The Working Girl – Representations of the Prostitute in 1980s British Cinema

Elliott, Paul (2014) The Iron Lady and The Working Girl – Representations of the Prostitute in 1980s British Cinema. In: Women and the Media: Feminism and Femininity in Britain, 1900 to the Present. Routledge research in gender and history . Routledge, London. ISBN Print: 9780415660365

[img] Text
The%20Iron%20Lady%20and%20The%20Working%20Girl%20-%20Finished-2-1.docx - Accepted Version
Restricted to Repository staff only

Download (41kB) | Request a copy


The image of the prostitute was a highly contested one in British cinema of the 1980s. Prompted by social and political events like the recent spate of killings in Bradford (that would eventually lead to the arrest of Peter Sutcliffe) or the founding of the English Collective of Prostitutes, the working girl became increasingly prominent and unerringly politicised during the Thatcher era, where she also represented the extremes of both the moral and the socio-economic landscape. The prostitute was seen as both the ultimate small business and the inevitable obscene supplement to the regimented Victorian morality of the Conservative government. She became a figure that was endlessly fascinating and yet also easily condemned.
Utilising both criminological and cinematic sources, this paper traces this image through several key films of the era – Prostitute (Tony Garnett, 1980), Mona Lisa (Neil Jordan, 1986), Wish You Were Here (David Leland, 1987) and Personal Services (Terry Jones, 1987) – and asserts that the prostitute can be read as a quilting point for many of the prescient discourses of the decade - from economics, to sexual health, from public morality to changing conceptions of femininity and ‘race’.
The 1980s were a crucial decade for representations of the prostitute and provided a bridge between the 1950s image of the fallen woman and the highly romanticised or eroticised figures of the 1990s (Pretty Woman (Gerry Marshall, 1990); Leaving Las Vegas (Mike Figgis, 1995); Indecent Proposal (Adrian Lynne, 1993). This paper asserts that the prostitute was used as a point of ideological resistance in 1980s British cinema and that this can be seen as part of a larger narrative on prostitution that still continues with films like London to Brighton (Paul Andrew Williams, 2006) and Everything (Richard Hawkins, 2004).

Item Type: Book Section
Additional Information:

A copy of this title is held at the Hive. Staff and students at the University of Worcester can access the e-book version via the UW online library search. External users should check availability with their local library or Interlibrary Requests Service.

Uncontrolled Discrete Keywords: feminism, femininity, Britain, mass media
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Divisions: College of Arts, Humanities and Education > School of Arts
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Paul Elliott
Date Deposited: 28 Sep 2012 14:22
Last Modified: 17 Jun 2020 16:56

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item
Worcester Research and Publications is powered by EPrints 3 which is developed by the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton. More information and software credits.