Suffragette is an important film, and deserves to be. The historically important events that it shows are of the utmost importance but sadly have faded in people’s minds over the years. This film will instil in you the great significance and heroism of these women, and will evoke your well-earned gratitude. It is astonishing that this is the first non-documentary film to tell these women’s stories, as the medium of film brings the events to a more emotional, connectable level than any textbook could.
The film follows Carey Mulligan’s Maud Watts, a working woman who falls into the suffragette movement thanks to one of her fellow workers. It then details the various protests, in varying forms, that this group of women take part in, not shying away from the level of police brutality they encountered at these events. The protests and consequences escalate, and eventually culminate at the film’s climax: the 1913 Epsom Derby.
The film is a fitting tribute to the women, showing their full courage and determination, portrayed sensitively and beautifully by the acting ensemble on show. Mulligan gives an immersive performance as Watts, and carries you along the journey as the newcomer to the movement, fully realising the cause and then throwing herself into it. Each other actress, especially Anne-Marie Duff and Helena Bonham-Carter, plunges themselves in the world of the suffragettes, giving real and involving performances, helping to capture the reality of the situation. Despite her headlining appearances promoting the film, Meryl Streep’s role as Emmeline Pankhurst is of cameo screen-time, proceeding to give a speech and then get bundled into a carriage. Despite the small amount of screen time, her appearance is very effective, the film’s sense of reality building up to the scene makes it feel incredibly real. It is fitting that such an iconic actress and activist for women’s rights should play such an iconic and important woman in history. The moment may give you chills as the film so involves you in the struggle of the women that the sight of their leader may resonate almost as deeply with you.
Abi Morgan’s script cleverly selects key events to play out and follows a specific group of women as opposed to attempting to encapsulate the entire movement, allowing the audience to become more attached and involved in their story. The chances are you won’t have heard of the women in this group, except for one, whose full name is not revealed until late on in the film, allowing you to see the women as united individuals, all fighting for the same cause. Sarah Gavron’s direction compliments this perfectly, keeping the story focused and involving and drawing out performances from her actors that are very grounded in realism. The film’s pacing may seem slightly off only a couple of times, but the film’s emotion is so enthralling you would barely notice this.
The climactic event at the Epsom Derby is a well-known one, the sense of dramatic irony only serving to heighten the unbearable tension that builds throughout the scene. It is a scene that packs a real emotional punch, and is one that resonates the most deeply in the entire film and will make you consider the sacrifices the women made and instil in you a strong sense of gratitude towards them.
A possible criticism that may surround the film is its treatment of men. Granted, this is a story about the women, but with the exception of one husband, all of the other men presented are strongly against the suffragette’s cause, a slight exaggeration of the situation of the time. It is a reversal of the usual gender imbalance in film, but a rare moment where the women in a film take centre stage.
Suffragette is important in the feminist movement and fight for equality, both in honouring the women who fought for the female right to vote, as well as the production of the film itself being of great significance today. With the conversation about women in the film industry being so prominent, a film written by, directed by and headlined by women is a rare feat and helps to progress the conversation and debate that is being held today.