If you learned anything about women’s suffrage and the militant organisations forged in order to stand for the rights of women in Britain before the First World War, you will know about this story. Carey Mulligan plays Maud Watts, the protagonist. A workingwoman in a laundry service, all that she’s ever known to be, other than a mother and a wife.
Living in difficult working conditions under an abusive boss, it comes with fate that she meets Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff), an outspoken and proud suffragette who pulls her into the movement. Forced to testify her own working conditions and her life as part of an appeal to convince the government for the vote, she is accepted into the movement and befriends other female activists who fight against the system—literally.
On top of that, Helena Bonham Carter stars and plays Edith Ellyn, a chemist, organiser and campaigner for the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Her drive for equality pushes her to do such things as orchestrating secret meetings, plotting action, and building explosives for militant action. She is a highly-valued asset amongst the suffragettes involved. Meryl Streep also has a brief moment on-screen portraying the leader of the suffragette movement, Emmeline Pankhurst, who is in hiding but it is determined to encourage her followers to use “deeds not words.”
Set primarily in London, the home of the Houses of Parliament, Suffragette is the first film of its kind to be shot on location, providing a somewhat authentic feel. Though the beginning of this film is quite slow, this is necessary to illustrate the oppression of women within a patriarchal society. There are several scenes where this patriarchy is so prominent that you just cannot ignore it, and it makes you think about how different elements of British life are now compared to how they were then.
In a sense, Suffragette certainly succeeds in getting you emotionally invested. Suffragette is a film that deals not only with the historic details of the suffragettes, but also the emotional aspects, too. For the film’s entirety, you follow Maud and see how her involvement with the WSPU changes her drastically, until she grows from passive and accepting woman to a militant activist fighting for equal rights amongst her peers.
I don’t want to give too much away, but what I feel I can say about a film that bases its plot on historical events in the past, is that, if you know about it, then you know very much what will happen in the course of the film.
Other than the script being well-written and the film being cathartic, it is refreshing to be taken back in time to one of the earliest feminist movements, and to be able to appreciate what women’s suffrage has achieved.