Filming the Frontispieces

Hannah Berryman – wife, mother and documentary filmmaker, in no particular order-wriggles on her stool, the confidence she oozes from behind the camera deserting her slightly as the questions are suddenly turned on her. ‘I’m very lucky that my mother has helped me to look after the children, and that I’ve got an open-minded husband,’she says when I ask how she manages her part-time job and full-time role as the wife of a barrister and mother of two.

This independent, ‘can do’ attitude reflects the views she holds on marriage: ‘It isn’t there to provide happiness in life. It’s a part of it.’ With that as background, then, does she have difficulty understanding the views and life choices of the women in tonight’s documentary, High Society Brides, which takes the Country Life frontispiece as its starting point? ‘In relationships, there is always a deal. Marriage used to be an articulated deal, but now it’s much more of a compromise. If you’re lucky, the traditional model can work, but now, women do want different things, and that includes me.’

Hannah believes that marriage now is more difficult than ever-roles are undefined, expectations are higher and everyone believes life should be fair, ‘but you can’t have everything-it’s constant negotiation’. She does, however, believe that most mothers do want to bring up their children themselves, but, having developed a taste for the adrenaline of the workplace, find it difficult to Life’s ‘Girls in Pearls’ before she started filming. The answer was vague, but she did confirm that ‘as a documentary-maker, you have to be an open person, you have to love the people you’re filming as the outcome depends on the rapport you build’. This is clear in her film, which look at the lives of six women who appeared on the Frontispiece page between 1960 and 2010.

The film is a commentary on how their lives worked out since their photographs were taken. Hannah admits she would have been an unlikely candidate for her documentary. ‘I was born in 1970 and grew up with working parents-both teachers. I was one of four children and we had to be independent. I went to Cambridge and then worked in radio. I was 22 when I made my first documentary. My favourite is The Brick in the Wall Kids, about a class of comprehensive-school children who are given a chance. I went to a comprehensive and can understand the power of having a teacher who believes in you. It can change your life.’ She adds: ‘As a film-maker, I’m interested in the grey areas, in the changing relationships between men and women. The women in this film fall into this category: they were brought up expecting to have a life that panned out in a particular way, but they were riding the wave of social change and this broadened their options.’ Hannah obviously has an enormous amount of respect for the women she has filmed. The trials and tribulations of their marriages are laid bare, the choices they made-perhaps out of duty-and the challenges this presented.

I ask if she would have liked to appear on the Frontispiece page before her marriage in 2000? There’s confusion and a lengthy pause before she says: ‘I want to give you a real answer-it just wouldn’t have happened.’
‘Wonderland: High Society Brides’ is on BBC2 this evening (October 20) at 9pm