Suffragette is, as the title suggests, a film about the tiresome crusade of the Women’s Suffrage cause of the early 1900s, where women protested for the right to vote. After many years of going unnoticed by the government, the Suffragettes find they have to resort to more startling methods in order to get the publicity they need to help get the law changed. Although the film is fictional itself, it directly mirrors the struggles that women faced to be able to get their voices heard.
Most documentaries about the Suffragettes focus on Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the activist group, and how she led the Women’s Social and Political Union to a very distant victory. Thanks to director Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane, This Little Life) and funding from the BFI, we get to see the story from the point of view of the real foot soldiers of the time. We focus particularly on Maud Watts (played by Carey Mulligan), a young married woman who falls into the movement after reaching breaking point with her long working days, evenings of women-related tasks, and the awful antics of her boss, who sees the women in the laundry factory as his own sexual playthings.
This film is different from other British films though – unlike period films like The King’s Speech, this one is gritty, brutal, and contains distressing scenes throughout. It was very different from what I was expecting, but in a very good way.
Pankhurst only features once in the whole film, with the focus much more on both the ground-level attacks from the Suffragettes and the espionage-tactics from the government. It’s not dressed up or ‘Hollywood-ised’ at all – you see everything as it was and there’s rarely a happy moment that isn’t followed by something either distressing, miserable, or just plain grim. It really depicts the struggle well, and led me to understand the reasons behind the increasingly violent situations the women had to cause.
The camera work was something that really aided the film from the very beginning – through the quick scenes and shaky movements we feel like we’re really there in the middle of it. The whole thing was very gripping – particularly for the action parts, where there seemed to be no limit as to what might happen next. As someone who hasn’t much knowledge on the Suffragette movement, I found it a very intense watch, and a fascinating insight into what happened. It made me feel incredibly thankful for where I am today, but also angry that it had to go so far. The score was also beautiful – it was highly emotive in parts, and added that extra dimension (yes, I’ll admit it made me cry). That’s a good thing though, because it really connected me with the story. Both the music and the set really added that 1900s feel to the film, and felt very poignant.
Mulligan plays an excellent Maud, with a great cast acting alongside her. Helena Bonham Carter plays Edith Ellyn, one of the main women in the London area responsible for a whole host of things, and it’s quite refreshing to see her in a less bizarre role. Anne-Marie Duff, who plays Violet, makes a great sidekick to Maud, and Brendon Gleeson portrays a very realistic Inspector Arthur Steed.
The bit that really made it for me was the end – before the credits, a list of when each country allowed women’s rights was displayed, which really made it apparent that we’re still not near where we should be in the world. It was nice to add a bit of fact towards the end to back up the contents of the film, but it certainly wasn’t one to leave you feeling on a high.
Suffragette is a great film, but one you really have to be in the mood for before you watch it, and so I’m giving it 4/5.
Suffragette at CeX
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