Mrs Somerville’s Monument is a short film, 3D stop motion puppet animation, with some pixilation. The film was commissioned as part of the Bristol Science Film Festival 2017, for a panel discussion event about women in STEM.
The main character, Mrs Somerville, is given the task of documenting the lives of scientists who have won Nobel prizes. Mrs Somerville (a character based on the real Mary Somerville, a 19th century science writer and polymath, hailed as “The Queen of Nineteenth-Century Science”) goes about her task by receiving packages of information and props to hint at the remarkable work of these great scientists. But her suspicions are aroused when the information arriving starts being about great scientists who have not won a Nobel prize, and there is something about these ones… they are all women. Mrs S then takes her task in a new direction and designs her own striking monument to the women of science who we forgot to remember.
Putting together the story
We spent a long time considering how we would shape this entirely fictional story to deliver a very real message about the lack of esteem given to women throughout the history of science, without being drearily explicit, zealous or, God forbid, unfunny. We deliberately deprived our main character of her own name, referring to her as Mrs Somerville to highlight how even someone as illustrious as Mary Somerville could be seen as domestic and subservient when subjected to cultural norms. We put her at our mercy, to carry out a task we had set her so we could tell the story we wanted to tell. And then we gave her a series of slightly bizarre situations to resolve, leaving her only one choice – to respond slightly bizarrely. The final monument was inspired by the fact that, if you think about it, most monuments are pretty phallic. How can you make a strong, monumental statement without erecting a massive stony dick? What is it that gives women their power? Can we make the normally unseen not just seen, but IN YOUR FACE seen? Thankfully, Mrs S solved that problem and delivered the final knowing chuckle we were hoping for.
The finished article
Can be found on our YouTube Channel here: https://youtu.be/6GUfw6Zcslk
The making of…
Mrs Somerville’s Monument was entirely handcrafted by Becky and Liz. Becky finally got to use the armature she had been gifted years ago to build Mrs S and painstakingly created the puppet in the style of Mary Somerville (including that fabulous 19th century dress), all finished off with the judicious application of Copydex. Liz constructed the front of house set, utilising some new woodworking skills recently acquired through the Bristol Women’s Workshop. Much of the detail, including the furniture, was constructed out of balsa laminate and the pleasingly malleable card retrieved from the back of some discarded certificate envelopes (you may recognise the “Please Do Not Bend” on the poster tube from certificate envelopes too). Some of the items presented to Mrs S as clues were sourced from the stocking-filler toy aisle of the local Tesco Extra.
The front of house set was placed on top of the stairwell that gives access to Becky’s loft. This seemingly precarious positioning allowed access to the back of the set from underneath (i.e. whilst standing on the stairs and reaching up), allowing us to manipulate the puppet and the front door from behind, do some tie-downs, etc, whilst not obstructing or disturbing the view of the front. All without building any fancy structures or scaffolding. It really is quite a handy spot.