Film Review: Suffragette (Pathe, 2015)

Mothers, Daughters, Rebels. Photo: Pathe

Mothers, Daughters, Rebels. Photo: Pathe

Sarah Hughes, Contributor

Carey Mulligan delivers an emotional performance in Suffragette, a film portraying the story of women’s struggle for the right to vote in Britain in 1912.  Written by Abi Morgan and directed by Sarah Gavron, the film brings to screen the actions of one of feminism’s earliest movements as they follow Emmeline Pankhurst’s call for “Deeds not words”. Far from the polite and respectable character of Mrs Banks from Mary Poppins, marching in a circle and waving a banner, this shows the suffragettes as rebels at their wits end, blowing up post boxes and throwing bricks in windows if it will give them the right to vote. At the the centre of this turmoil is Maud Watts (Mulligan).  Mulligan’s performance is intense, both in the touching vignettes between her and her son and in her anger and ferocity when engaging the bullish Inspector Steed (Gleeson). Mulligan powerfully conveys Watt’s arduous and unfulfilling struggle both at home and at the launderette where she spends nearly all of her time. Finally enough is enough – she has no choice but to take a stand and join the movement.

Photo: Pathe

Photo: Pathe

Helena Bonham Carter also plays a key role in the film as the ruthless Edith Ellyn. Bonham Carter represents women who had the support of their husbands, and delivers a sense of leadership that draws even the audience to follow her. I enjoyed that a spectrum of characters from different class backgrounds were shown participating in the action, the director realising the necessity of showing  how these issues affected every woman, be it the the upper-class Alice Haughton (Romola Garai) or the struggling Violet Miller (Anne Marie Duff). Anne Marie Duff may have been overlooked as a side character yet she delivered a performance which was as enthralling and powerful in its own right, as the victim of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Meryl Strep made a disappointingly short appearance as Emmeline Pankhurst, contrary to the advertising of the film.

Suffragette also cast a light on women’s rights over their own children as Ben Whishaw’s heartbreaking performance as Sonny Watts, Maud’s unforgiving husband, highlighted. The film is not  afraid to show the raw viciousness of police brutality and the consequences of refusing to submit; from beatings to force feedings it didn’t shy away from the darker parts of the history.  Natalie Press also gives a striking portrayal as Emily Davidson, the suffragettes first martyr. Her death is accompanied by a beautiful orchestral score by Alexandre Desplat that compliments a gloomy England climbing out of the Victorian age.

The most notable thing about the film is the story’s focus on why the call for change was needed and the lengths to which women were willing to go. It is no coincidence that at its premier in London feminist protesters from Sisters Uncut (a campaign against domestic violence) threw themselves on the red carpet and lay there refusing to move. Suffragette is a film that inspires change and successfully portrays an essential chapter of women’s history with drama and emotion.

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