- on Friday, 06 November 2015 14:49
- by Frank Wilkins
It's an unforgivable shame that such an important event in world history as the women’s suffrage campaign has received so little attention from TV and Hollywood. So little in fact, that there’s never been a feature film based on this true life event that literally changed history by eventually leading to voting rights for women.
But these women of the suffrage movement who were willing to sacrifice everything they had for their right to vote, finally get a feature film in Sarah Gavron’s soul-stirring Suffragette, a film that doubles as both an unforgettable history lesson and a darn good piece of entertainment. Though it narrows its focus down to the singular perspective of just a few of the movement’s key participants during a thin slice of the 50+ year battle for women’s voting rights, and because the subject matter carries such relevance in today’s world, Suffragette is a film that matters. And one that must be seen.
Bookended by grainy newsreel footage of actual pre-World War I marches and public parades by the women of the suffragette movement in Britain, Gavron’s film uses the perspective of an ordinary woman to explore what instilled these women with such drive and determination. That woman is the fictional amalgam of working class women of the time named Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), who was initially an outsider to the cause but who eventually crosses paths with key figures in the real-life suffragettes’ history such as Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep), Emily Davison (Natalie Press), and Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter).
We follow Maud from her early 20th century upbringing in a squalid London laundry to her eventual political awakening and radicalization. We watch her evolve from a poor, hard working wife and mother to an active participant in rock-throwing, mailbox bombing, and house burning. The movement had recently begun deploying more radical tactics as their message continued to drown in the apathy of lawmakers… male lawmakers. To keep the movement’s fires burning, leader Pankhurst began to push for “deeds not words.”
But as arrests, beatings, imprisonment, hunger strikes, and force feedings begin to take a toll, we watch Maud turn from trembling victim afraid of her own shadow to determined activist willing to die for her cause. Mulligan deserves every bit of praise she gets for this difficult role and for the success of the entire film, really. She’s the emotional anchor of the story and we’re awed by the waves of despair, fear, anguish, and determination that scroll across her face… often in a single scene. We not only see what happens to Maud, we feel it.
Maud cherishes the occasional conjugal visit with estranged son, George (Adam Michael Dodd) – she’s left by husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw) when he can no longer handle the ridicule and embarrassment of a wife he can’t “control” – and these are the only moments she seems truly happy and at peace. A much-needed breath of fresh air amongst the almost incessant dark and dingy surroundings and soul-crushing subject matter.
Helena Bonham Carter – whose great-grandfather was Prime Minister at the time the events are depicted and was interestingly a major nemesis of the movement – holds her own as Edith Ellyn, a local pharmacist who mixes the group’s bombs in her pharmacy and who keeps the movement on point with her drive and motivation towards the cause.
Brendan Gleeson is also quite good in his role as a shrewd police inspector hired to snoop on the movement’s activities. He’s a villain who brings both disdain and an ever-so-slight tinge of sympathy to the part.
One of Suffragette's most appreciated accomplishments is its ability to paint the heroic events of a social movement that happened more than a hundred years ago with a modern-day relevance sure to resonate with audiences of today. That is, if anyone goes to see it in theaters. Sadly, no one will. Especially the millions of women voters who also won’t bother going to the polls to exercise the right that thousands of women around the world literally gave their lives for.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some intense violence, thematic elements, brief strong language and partial nudity.
Runtime: 106 mins
Director: Sarah Gavron
Writer: Abi Morgan
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Anne-Marie Duff, Helena Bonham Carter
Genre: Drama | History
Tagline: Mothers. Daughters. Rebels
Memorable Movie Quote: "Deeds, not words."
Distributor: Focus Features
Official Site: https://www.suffragettemovie.com/showtimes
Release Date: November 6, 2015
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available.
Synopsis: Suffragette is the first ever feature film to tell the inspirational story of the foot soldiers of the early feminist movement who risked everything in the fight for equality.