The Bletchley Circle Cracks the Code

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While I have zero affection or interest for 1950s clothing (or really anything post 1920s), I loved watching The Bletchley Circle (2012-2014) because of the women who are the main characters. These four people are so realistically drawn for the period, yet they’re still fascinating enough for a modern audience. Susan, Millie, Lucy, and Jean had jobs that exercised their brains during World War II, and then, after the war, when the series takes place, they’re shoved back into stereotypical women’s roles of the 1950s — housewife or, at best, a librarian or secretary type job.

The Bletchley Circle (2012-2014)

Susan (played by Anna Maxwell Martin), in particular, chafes in her proscribed place as wife and mother of two children, subservient to her husband’s civil service career ambitions. But when all four women get back together, they can sneak around just enough in their spare time to solve murder mysteries. The stories are plausible, yet entertaining. This is how to do historical fiction — the women aren’t cliche feminists that stick out like sore thumbs (like having a “lady doctor” in an era when that would be implausible, hint hint Versailles). Those in The Bletchley Circle are women of their time, but they are also relatable to women in the 21st century.

The Bletchley Circle (2012-2014)

Sitting at home and knitting is kind of boring for Susan.

The Bletchley Circle (2012-2014)

She’s much more in her element when she’s solving a complex puzzle, large or small.

This production combined accurate history (even the WWII codebreaking premise, according to one expert) with entertainment, although I guess it wasn’t appealing to a large enough audience for the series to last beyond two seasons in the U.K. However, it’s been available for streaming and on on DVD, so we can still appreciate it and hold this up as a model for others to attempt follow.

The Bletchley Circle (2012-2014)
The Bletchley Circle (2012-2014)

Millie (played by Rachael Stirling) is the most independent one, vowing to “never be ordinary.” But this causes trouble for her; the series doesn’t sugar-coat how hard it was for women to rebel in the 1950s.

The Bletchley Circle (2012-2014)

Lucy (played by Sophie Rundle) is the youngest, super brilliant, but married to a physically abusive man.

The Bletchley Circle (2012-2014)

Jean (played by Julie Graham) is the oldest and was the women’s supervisor during the war. Now she works as a librarian, and she provides crucial information for their crime-solving.

The Bletchley Circle (2012-2014)

 

Have you seen The Bletchley Circle?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. Her costuming adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also ran a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

20 Responses

  1. Mallory Stevens

    Yes, I have. It was marvelous. Gripping. I couldn’t stop watching it. Anna Maxwell Martin is marvelous in anything she’s in. She brings an unusual beauty borne through grace and wit and intelligence.

    Reply
  2. hsc

    We caught this on Netflix streaming a while back, and absolutely loved it, for all the reasons you cited.

    I just wish they could’ve done a few series more, with Netflix backing them.

    Reply
  3. thedementedfairy

    OOh- haven’t seen this but as a mathematician with a very keen interest in Bletchley Park and all things code related…I’ll have to seek it out. Ta greatly missus!

    Reply
  4. Maria

    This is the first time I’m hearing about this series but I’ll be adding it to my Netflix que – it sounds wonderful – I’m okay with fashions up to the 1950’s but after that I have to agree – modern fashions just aren’t that interesting…lol

    Reply
      • SarahV

        Millie certainly had a dash of glamour, though. But there were extensive post-show commentaries about the look of the show, including a concerted effort to create a muted, bland color palate, which was supposed to evoke the post-war dreariness in Britain.

        Reply
  5. mmcquown

    I loved this show! Most of the WWII vets are gone now, so only those of us who grew up during the war are left to remember all that these women and many other did to further the war effort, then were expected to go back to “homemaking.”

    Reply
  6. Sharon

    I watched this on telly in the UK and have watched it countless times on DVD. You are quite right, they don’t sugar coat Lucy getting beaten up by her husband, almost getting raped by the man on the train, Millie playing the black market, Jean and Susan just chaffing against what they have to do and what they know they are capable of. I thought the clothes were lovely, especially Millie’s trousers, fitted blouses, red lips and shoulder bags………..her flat was pretty fab as well!

    Reply
  7. Susan Pola

    Yes. It was marvelous. I really enjoyed the series. It was enlightening seeing the manner in which intelligent women were expected to go back and forget using their minds during the war. My favourite was Susan played impeccably by Anna Maxwell Martin. It was a joy watching her thought processes in catching the criminals. I also liked Millie.
    I definitely will watch both series again.

    Reply
  8. Frannie Germeshausen

    I loved this show! When it aired on local PBS, it was followed by Call the Midwife, so it was a feminist one-two punch that was very powerful.

    Reply
  9. SarahV

    I would watch an entire show built around either Millie, with her unconventional panache and linguistic skills, or supposedly dowdy, dour Jean, who was really such a riveting presence that I just kept watching her face when the other actresses were speaking.

    Fun fact – Julie Graham played the funky, naughty party girl roommate in one of my guiltiest of guilty pleasures, Bedrooms and Hallways, a 90’s romcom about a love affair between Kevin Mckidd and James Purefoy, with Tom Hollander and Hugo weaving thrown in for good measure. She looked great in her bra scene!

    IMHO – the second series was much less enjoyable because Susan’s role was very much diminished and the central mystery around new character Alice was,,,, boring.

    Reply

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