Maxine Peake: Why Big Lil is a better role model than Kim Kardashian

From BBC - October 25, 2017

She's known for her acting on stage and screen, but Maxine Peake has another career - writing plays about fearless women who overcame the odds in a man's world.

It took four policemen to physically hold Lillian Bilocca back when she tried to stop a trawler leaving port in Hull in 1968 at the height of her campaign for safety at sea.

Three ships and 53 lives had just been lost and emotions were high.

"Big Lil" was a fishwife, and her husband, father and son all worked on the trawlers.

She had had enough. She tried to board under-manned ships to prevent them from departing and took a petition with 10,000 signatures to the government.

For their efforts, she and her fellow "headscarf revolutionaries" were met with disdain, misogyny and even death threats by some Hull men and trawler owners. She was blacklisted and never worked in the fishing industry again.

But the campaign worked. The law was changed, and lives were undoubtedly saved.

Bilocca is the heroine of Maxine Peake's latest play The Last Testament of Lillian Bilocca, which opens in Hull next week.

"It felt an important story to tell," the actress and playwright says.

"It's about women putting their head above the parapet, and she did get punished for it by the community."

One of Britain's most sought-after performers, Peake has starred in TV dramas including Shameless, Silk and Three Girls, and films like The Theory of Everything.

But she also has a burning desire to tell her own stories - mostly about unsung British heroines whose achievements have been swept under history's carpet.

Before The Last Testament of Lillian Bilocca, she wrote Beryl, about Beryl Burton, the champion cyclist who went faster than her male rivals, as well as Queens of the Coal Age, about four miners' wives who tried to save pits from closure by occupying a mine.

'Determination and fearlessness'

She wants to celebrate "ordinary women who had led extraordinary lives", she explains.

She says: "There's a determination and a fearlessness in those women that I really gravitated towards. They were 'get up and go and sod the consequences'.

"I sort of aspire to [that]. They really spoke to me. They did not let being a woman obviously it was an issue, but they did not feel it was something that ever stopped them or became a barrier. They knew what they wanted to do.

"With Beryl and with Lil, they had a passion and they followed it. I suppose that's what I have always tried to do, although it's not always easy."

There are some "amazing role models out there" today, Peake says - but she believes Beryl, Lil and the rest set better examples than some celebrities who are held up as idols for young women. She's looking at you, the Kardashians.

"Look at our role models," she says. "I wo not mention her name, but there's a family, you know, and it's all about beauty and looks, and that drives me insane.

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