Suffragette follows the early feminist movement led by Emmeline Pankhurst in which women fought for the right to vote. The overall story is based on real events that the women in the movement faced but the central story following main character Maud (Carey Mulligan) is fictional. Maud is a loving wife and mother who has worked in the laundry all her life, she is the typical working class woman and has no interest in getting involved in the Suffragette movement. However Maud gets dragged along to a rally by fellow worker Violet (Anne-Marie Duff) and is soon starting to see the world through their eyes and really understanding the injustice that the government shows towards women.
The Suffragette movement is shown to go from peaceful protests to violent law breakers as the women become desperate in their actions to be heard. Watching their every move is a team of police led by Inspector Arthur Steed (Brendan Gleeson) who is determined to punish the ringleaders in an aim to stop the movement from increasing. These punishments included spells in prison where the women were mistreated and the more hardy ones went on hunger strike as a way of continuing their fight for rights.
Carey Mulligan is phenomenal as Maud (though it takes a few minutes to get used to her harsh London accent!) she really connected to this character and everything she stood for, making a compelling character to watch. She acts out some emotional scenes – you will definitely need tissues when she is separated from her little boy! – all of which she is outstanding in. You will really fall in love with Maud’s character and really feel her pain at everything she goes through. I’ve always thought Carey to be a brilliant actress but in this she is worlds above anyone else.
Alongside Carey is Helena Bonham Carter, another favourite of mine, who is excellent as Enid, someone who had dreamt of being a Doctor but had to settle as a pharmacist because as a woman she wasn’t allowed to go any higher. Fortunately for Enid her husband is the only nice man in the film who supports his wife’s beliefs and helps the women in their quest for equality. Every other man in the film is totally against the movement and will stop at nothing to put their women back in line. This includes Maud’s husband (Ben Whishaw) who demands Maud stop hanging out with the Suffragette’s as it was turning their neighbours and colleagues against them. When Maud goes against this he kicks her out the house and refuses her access to their son. It is here that we are informed that she has no rights over their child, at that time children were the property of the men and they could make any decisions regarding them without the consent of the mother. Something which Maud finds out to her anguish.
The leader of the Suffragette movement, Emmeline Pankhurst is played by Meryl Streep. Now, considering Meryl is on all the posters and has been giving interviews on TV about the film I’d expected her to be in it for more than two minutes! Slightly disappointing as it would have been even better if she’d been in it for longer but Meryl certainly gives a great performance in the little time she’s in the film.
Something which I really liked about Suffragette is that we see how the movment affected all classes. Yes it’s mainly the working class who are fighting but the inclusion of Mrs Alice Haughton (Romola Garai) a government official’s wife who is also desperate for change shows that even women in the upper classes longed for more rights. There is a particularly moving scene when Alice gets arrested along with the other women and her husband comes to bail her out. She asks and later pleads with her husband to bail out all the women but he refuses and drags her home. It’s then clear to us and to Alice that her husband does not agree with the movement like she’d first thought.
The entire cast is fantastic, all give excellent performances and really make this film into a moving and gripping story. There are an awful lot of extreme close-ups used throughout – particularity on Carey – so we can really see the emotion and passion in the women as they fight to be heard.
Overall this film is an absolute must-see. I know I say this a lot but Suffragette is possibly the best film I’ve seen all year and it’s message is so important to our history. It’s easy now to go about our lives taking everything for granted, but seeing this film has made me realise just how much those women gave up in order to give us the freedom we have now. The film ends with real footage of thousands of Suffragettes in the streets of London and then proceeds to tell us in what year countries around the world gave women the right to vote. Seeing this list is shocking, there are so many countries that only complied 30 or so years ago and a few only changed their laws as recently as 2000. Even worse, Saudi Arabia still hasn’t given women the right to vote, and this is something which I wasn’t aware of until now. So you may think that the Suffragette movement is something from a long time ago but the struggle that those women went through is still going on today for some women around the world. Hopefully the message from this film will start to change that.