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Projecting the Archive

First a Girl

+ intro by film historian John Oliver

Jessie Matthews shines in this comic delight, which features an early example of cross-dressing on screen.

Image from First a Girl + intro by film historian John Oliver

UK 1936
Dir Victor Saville
With Jessie Matthews, Sonnie Hale, Anna Lee
93min
35mm
Certificate U

Based on the German film Viktor und Viktoria (remade with Julie Andrews in 1982), this Jessie Matthews vehicle sees her as a performer who builds a career by posing as a female impersonator. Matthews was as big a musical star as Gracie Fields, but, although both were working class, Matthews developed a very different screen persona based on glamour and sophistication. Here, the theme of cross-dressing (rather risqué for 1930s Britain) leads to some exquisite comic situations in which Matthews proves her talent for comedy and manages to be convincing in the gender swap scenes, despite her petite frame and feminine features.

Josephine Botting

Also available on BFI Player.

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