Quakers in the Movies

A compilation of the (mostly) ridiculous history of Quakers in the movies.

Jon Watts

Jon Watts launched and directed the QuakerSpeak project for its first 6 seasons. Keep up to date with Jon’s work at his website.

11 thoughts on “Quakers in the Movies

  1. You can also add “Belle” that is now in theatres. Towards the end, Lord Mansfield is talking to Lord Ashford in the Supreme Court and Lord Ashford looks over and says, “Who let those damned Quakers in here?” as they were discussing the Zong case.

  2. I must have missed the kneeling and staring part of my own wedding, though I did gaze at her at times. At least I do not recall kneeling or staring these 45 years later.

    I do think we might be just a bit more evangelical and replace the oddness of Quakers conveyed in these films with the still radical, if not odd, conviction that to speak truth through one’s life is a moral imperative.

  3. Not a movie, but there was a TV show in the mid ’90s called Christy that had Tyne Daly playing a Quaker missonary who was running a school in the mountains of Tennessee. My memory of her character, Alice Henderson, was that she was a fully formed character who did live some Quaker values. I recall being surprised and impressed to see a Quaker character on the screen. I was disappointed when I read the books the show was based on and found the character had a smaller role in them.

  4. Last decade I enjoyed an HBO series called Six Feet Under about a family that operated a funeral home (lots of weighty things to weigh). But I winced in the last season when they introduced a Quaker character. The meetings for worship were all silent and held in a chapel with all the benches facing an altar. The only ‘message’ I recall was one elderly woman standing to announce that she needed a ride home.

  5. I don’t know if the word “Quaker” was used — my imperfect memory says not — but there is a scene in the wonderful comedy “The Philadelphia Story” with Katherine Hepburn, Cary Grant and James Stewart, where Stewart’s cynical character mockingly uses “thee” to a librarian who has used plain speech with him and is plainly “fitting the stereotype.” The setting is Philadelphia’s “Main Line.”

  6. Restoration has a pretty respectful approach towards some really lovely Quaker characters.

  7. If I recall correctly, there’s a point in the 2006 movie Amazing Grace (about William Wilberforce) wherein one of Wilberforce’s friends (can’t remember who) alerts him to the decreasing number of supporters he has in Parliament, and at one bleak moment (to me at once poignant, blackly comic, and oddly inspiring), the friend says to Wilberforce, “the Quakers still write their letters, but no one listens.”

  8. I would take a view different from Ms Deacon (above) in that Mr Stewart in speaking to the librarian does not seem to mock, but rather seems to feel ill-at-ease in his role as as poseur and interloper. Indeed this quality defines his character – so it is consistent, not mocking.

    Chekhov teaches that “when there is a gun on the wall in the beginning of a play, then it must later be used in the play”. Similarly, I do not see in the movie in question any logical reason for putting a “Quaker on the wall”, as the Quaker theme is never developed in subsequent scenes.

    Grant donated his wages from the film, and Hepburn worked for a share of ownership, not for wages. It may be, then, that Ms Hepburn, and, to a lesser extent, Mr Grant and Mr Stewart too, help some control over a script that, in the original, may have explored Quaker themes of sobriety and forbearance – but to explore that idea one would have to do some sleuthing, eh? I may look up the play-script and see what, if any, Quaker theme(s) may have been developed in the Broadway production.

    It was this question that brought me to this welcome site. Kind thanks for the operators!

    Pax, Brothers

  9. There are a lot of Quakers in the Outlander series books. Since it is now a t.v. series, I expect there will be some in that. One of the main characters actually marries a Quaker, and the show has been quite good about honoring the books and history.

    Looking forward to seeing how they do it.

  10. You could do the same with all the 1950 and 1960’s television series westerns. Gunsmoke, The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, Wagon Train, Lone Ranger, The Rifleman, Bat Masterson. They all had at least one or two show themes centered on Quakers.

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