Women are strong, intelligent, empathetic and capable. These four words which can be used to describe the women of the Bletchley Circle: Susan, Millie, Lucy and Jean. This group of women decoded Nazi war messages for the English at Bletchley Park during World War II. Their jobs were top secret and very important. They were leading extraordinary lives. After the war however, things changed. Although the journey of these four women is a fictional television miniseries, there are many historical facts that are alluded to throughout.
Nine years after the war our main character Susan begins to feel a bit static in the monotony of her daily life. Cooking, cleaning, caring for her husband and children seem to stifle her. We find that she has been carefully following the story of a supposed serial killer who is abducting and murdering women. She convinces her very wary husband that she has found a pattern in the killings and they head to Scotland Yard.
After the men in power disregard her knowledge and theories, she breaks down and throws her research into the fireplace. But what should be accidentally thrown in? A photograph of her and her three friends from Bletchley Park. She quickly saves the burning image and we see on the back a message from Millie, ‘Never be Ordinary’. Cue the Girl Power music.
She seeks out Millie and in turn they locate both Lucy and Jean. They use their old wartime connections to obtain classified records and discover that these killings are much more sinister than the news is reporting. After digging further they find that there is a total of twelve women within the past nine years who have been strangled and raped postmortem by the same man.
The women are put in many difficult situations while trying to solve this case including ending up at the location of a recently murdered woman, a sexual attack and subsequent beating by Lucy’s husband, and the killer’s ultimate obsession with Susan. Through it all they manage to work together until the end. So, what made these women realize that they could live extraordinarily in the oppressive era of the 1950’s?
Many would argue that their experience in the war gave them the courage to expect more from their lives. They were put in powerful positions that only they were capable of doing. However, I would argue differently. I would say that their experiences as a group gave them the backing to be more, to want more.
Take Lucy for example, after the war she married a jealous, abusive man because she didn’t want to be alone. As a general rule during that time, you were supposed to get married and begin a life of servitude. She most likely would never have had the courage to leave him if it weren’t for the camaraderie the other women supplied to her. There is power in numbers, power in sisterhood, and I truly feel that the Bletchley Circle is based upon that idea. Feminism is only as strong as the people who supply it. The larger a ‘circle’ we have, the louder our voice becomes.
***Again, although the stories told in the Bletchley Circle show are fictional, you can read all about the real women of Bletchley Park here (http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/women-were-key-code-breaking-bletchley-park-180954044/?no-ist) . The PBS miniseries (comprised of two seasons) is available for streaming on Netflix.