Film Review: ‘Suffragette’

Directed by Sarah Gavron

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Meryl Streep

Certificate: 12A

Original Release Date: October 2015

Review by Miriam Atkinson

The film Suffragette is a historical drama that follows British women’s suffrage movement. Set in 1912 and 1913 the movement is already in full swing when Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), at first inadvertently then deliberately, becomes involved in the fight for ‘votes for women’. Encouraged by new friends Mrs Ellen (Helena Bonham Carter) and Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff), the film explores how Maud is transformed from an ordinary woman into a rebel. One of the most thought-provoking films I have seen in a long time, it certainly made me question whether, as a woman, would I have done the same as these suffragettes.

Firstly the acting throughout the film was superb but particular praise must go to Mulligan and Bonham Carter. Both were utterly convincing in their roles as they switched from the hard strength of an activist to the softer moments of family life with believable ease. My only confusion with the cast is the significant lack of Meryl Streep. Wonderfully portraying leading suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, Streep only appears for two short scenes despite the huge marketing campaign around the actress’ involvement in the film. While I understand the film is about how suffrage affected the lives of ordinary women I still felt it wasted opportunity to show more of such an important female figure from British history.

With so many highlights it is impossible to discuss them all. I enjoyed the contrast between Mr Ellen as a supportive husband and Mr Watts’ anger at Maud’s decisions as it gave the audience a wider insight into society’s then views. Suffragette showed the at times brutal treatment of women and while some scenes, such as when female prisons were force fed, were hard to watch I applaud the film for not shying away from the truth about what really happened.

With such a powerful story I was unsure how the film would end. After a rollercoaster of high drama ending with a low, quiet note would not have felt right for me. Fortunately I was not disappointed. As the characters of this 2015 film leave to join the parade marching as part of Emily Wilding Davison’s funeral the screen turns white and the picture is replaced with real footage from that funeral. As a viewer it was the point when I truly appreciated the scale of women’s suffrage in Britain. The film then ends with a list of countries around the world and the year when they granted women the vote. Upon seeing that list I was reminded of a beautiful moment in the film when Maud has just returned home from prison. Her young son asks: ‘did you do a very bad thing?’ to which Maud simply replies: ‘no, I don’t think so’.

This review was originally published in the online magazine Cuckoo Review in October 2015

This review was chosen for inclusion in the 4th issue of the published-magazine Cuckoo Press in December 2015

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