Review: BBC’s The Women Who Changed Modern Scotland ★★★★★

by Gemma Murphy

Kirsty Wark is giving a voice to the women who made Scotland the country it is today. The result is a deeply moving, entertaining and insightful watch in the shape of the broadcaster’s new BBC series, The Women Who Changed Modern Scotland.

This three-part series tells the stories of trailblazing women from Shetland to Shettleston, spanning a 50-year time frame. It features familiar faces such as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon but most admirably shines a light on women whose contribution has often gone unnoticed. 

Some challenged the status quo in the 1960s and 70s. Others defied sexism to seize new opportunities in the ‘80s and ‘90s. More recently, profiled women include those who have stepped up to lead – in politics, in their communities and in the workplace.

In episode one, The Disruptors, Ms Wark meets women of the ‘60s and ‘70s who transformed lives and the country itself. Focusing on a time where laws, politics and societal norms were in favour of men, the coverage remains uplifting thanks to the focus on the strive this gave the women of the time to change things. In touching on issues such as normalised domestic abuse, we glimpse a feeling of unity women created in untenable situations. The result is an emotional but inspiring tale of history in motion. It serves as proof that women have and always will be just as capable as men.

The second episode, Having It All, looks at the ‘80s and ‘90s when legislative leaps enshrined new rights for women and glass ceilings were smashed, while at the same time everyday sexism remained rife. As well as meeting women who pursued successful careers in fields previously dominated by men, Ms Wark reveals the stories of those who fought to change the systems and structures that held women back. 

The third and final part, Breakthroughs and Backlash, brings the series into the modern era and sees more women taking the lead, striving to make a difference. But this new prominence comes at a cost, and the host also explores how women are encountering new forms of hostility on social media and beyond.

In only three episodes an incredible range of topics is covered without feeling overwhelming. Ms Wark does an excellent job of asking important questions while being aware that the answers are most important, giving women from all walks of life a chance to tell their story. 

The broadcaster said: “This series will celebrate the monumental achievements of women, many of them unsung, who some quietly, and others shouting from the rafters, did so much to transform the lives of women and men in Scotland and beyond in the last five decades.”

And celebrate it does. From the right to play football to the fight to end period poverty this series memorialises women who are not in our history books but should be. It will make you laugh, cry and most importantly be proud to be a woman. 

As Ms Wark adds at the conclusion of episode three: “There’s still a long way to go though, so the world had better watch out”. It serves as a reminder that there are still changes to be made – but I believe this series will put a fire in the bellies of the young women watching as it did mine.  

The Women Who Changed Modern Scotland is available to watch on BBC iPlayer on the 21st of February at 10pm.