Focus Features 106 minutes PG-13
There are some extraordinary scenes in this movie about an ordinary woman in London who was drawn into the Suffragette movement. The movie is a history lesson with characters based on real people as well as the main character who is a fictional one.
Carey Mulligan gives an exceptional performance as Maud, a wife and working mother who suffered constant indignities working in a laundry where long hours, small wages, and sexual harassment were common place.
Mulligan says she’s glad it shows the voice of an lower class woman stepping forward and getting involved in a political movement. She also says the struggle for women to be on equal terms with men still exists today. Whether it's getting the vote or equal pay, which she says has a long way to go in Hollywood, too.
Director Sarah Gavron does an excellent job creating London circa 1912 when women got pretty testy about not having the right to vote. It took years to produce. This is the first time a film crew was allowed to shoot in Parliament, ever! The script, written by Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady), uses the words and slogans of the time to great advantage. The pace is pretty even and works up to a heart stopping climax.
There has been criticism that the actions of the working class in this film do not depict how it really happened. Maud’s character is fictional, but the arrests, beatings, hunger strikes, subsequent force-feedings and the riot at Black Friday run true. But how a meek, working class woman could have the courage and ability to stand up to Sir Lloyd George in Parliament at that time is not completely believable.
The costumes, sets, hair and makeup and, in particular, the hats, show exquisite detail in this production. There are a lot of closeups of women’s faces, especially Carey Mulligan, who slowly becomes attuned to the cause. She ends up being arrested, kicked out of the house by her husband after losing her job. The greatest indignity comes when her husband played by Ben Whishaw as Sonny, (Spectre, Skyfall) adopts out their son. Sonny says he can't take care of him by himself yet he won't allow Maud anywhere near her child. The scene between Maud and Georgie is gut wrenching. And the law allowed all of this.
Anne-Marie Duff as Violet is strong in her role as another fictional character who prods Maud to get involved. Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst, (in a small, but important role) is for real. Pankhurst was an upper class, powerful and revered leader of the Suffragette movement. “Deeds not words.” “Never surrender. Never give up the fight.”
Natalie Press plays Emily Wilding Davison who is passionate about fighting for the vote. She was reportedly arrested 9 times and force-fed more than 40 times. Some think she should have been the central character of the film but we don’t see her until later, don’t know as much about her and don’t get to be drawn into her story until her pivotal scene. This is what forced the government to really take notice.
Press recreates running in front of the King’s horse during the Epsom Derby race to draw attention to the cause. Davison died of her injuries and Mulligan has added a tattoo to her wrist as as a tribute to the woman and her sacrifice.
Helena Bonham Carter plays a fictional character. She’s an educated chemist, or what would be today’s pharmacist. What’s interesting about her playing this role is that the actress’ Great Grandfather worked for the Prime Minister during that era and was opposed women getting the vote. As Edith Ellen, she is militant but not violent and tries to keep her cohorts from hurting others. Carter is more controlled than her fellow rebels.
Brendan Gleeson is perfect as the inspector for the government trying to stop women from blowing up mailboxes and throwing things through glass windows to gain attention. He is at the same time strict and hateful while trying to understand where Maud’s coming from. His expressionless face while stating the facts was almost serpent-like.
Is this worth your bucks? This film presents a lot of detail about a powerful piece of history. It gets a little preachy, especially at the end when, during the credits, you see how long it has taken to give women the vote in other countries around the world, including America. Carey Mulligan, herself, said she never knew how much these women sacrificed to win the vote. Be warned, there are some tough prison scenes including force feedingh. Mulligan shows such wide range in the transformation from Maud the Meek to Maud the Strong and Defiant becoming more radicalized as her life unraveled.
But Suffragette is more than a history lesson. It's a film written and directed by women that brings to life the struggles women continue to face to this day, and how Maud became one tough broad.