Film Review: Suffragette

Director: Sarah Gavron

Starring: Carey Mulligan; Brendan Gleeson; Meryl Streep



By Sophie McNaughton


Suffragette – while starring fictional laundry house worker Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) – is an entertaining, inspiring and moving education on the Suffragette movement.

As a working-class wife and mother who has worked tirelessly from the age of seven, underpaid and overworked in comparison to men, we see Maud in the dusty midst of exploitative and treacherous working conditions as well as being forced to endure lingering, unwanted sexual advances from slimy boss Norman Taylor (Geoff Bell).

While Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff) and other Suffragettes are seen smashing shop windows and chanting one of the film’s most prominent, yet simple, lines – Votes for women! – Maud stumbles into the scene and, further yet, into the Suffragette movement itself almost by accident. Violet – detecting Maud’s carefully veiled interest in the cause – soon convinces her to come along to Edith Ellyn’s (Helena Bonham Carter) secret suffragette meetings in the back of her pharmacy. Reluctant at first, we soon notice subtle changes in Maud’s character. As she witnesses police officers brutally beating and incarcerating women without warrant, and relentless gaffer Taylor sexually assaulting Violet’s young daughter, Maggie, in the back of the laundry house; her eyes, and her mind, are opened.

The more enlightened Maud becomes regarding the cruel treatment of women, the more active she becomes in Suffrage; emerging from a sheepish, obedient wife and worker into one of the fierce and determined ‘foot soldiers of the early feminist movement’. Through sacrifice, suffering and devotion to the cause in order to secure the vote for women, the viewer quickly lets go of the earlier doubts they had and begins to trust that Maud will not betray or abandon her new friends – despite bargaining efforts from Inspector Arthur Steed (Brendan Gleeson) – but will do everything in her power to ensure their voice is heard.

Starting in 1912, the movement is led by Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep), who plays a cat-and-mouse game with the authorities; appearing briefly to speak to and encourage her followers before abruptly fleeing to escape the clutches of the police. Yet, her momentary appearance still inspires Maud, and the audience too, by emphasising that suffragettes want to be “law-makers, not law-breakers” and that she’d rather be “a rebel than a slave”. These lines accompanied by Violet’s: “If they want us to respect the law, they need to make the law respectable” hammer home the reality of how backwards, prejudiced and divisive our laws used to be, and while our government and legal system has come a long way, traces of the sexist attitudes conveyed by the villains of Suffragette are still eerily relevant today.

With the use of authentic time-appropriate costume and set, the audience is captivated and thrown back in time to find out exactly why and how British women fought for the vote; through a tale of love, loss and sacrifice. Suffragette is a heart-bounding, enthralling and long-overdue historical epic filled with substance, drama, grit and fire; a performance that finally honours the movement it is named after.}