Well, Carey Mulligan is divine for starters. You really feel an incredible amount of sympathy for her character Maude Watts, a reluctant suffragette. Her hopes for the future and the sacrifices she makes in the process of her empowerment were felt by everyone in the audience, with the force feeding scene being particularly hard to watch, really bringing home just how barbaric this practice was. Maude’s pale bruised face as she left prison was a visual reminder of the hands which had held her down. Anne Marie Duff, as the brave and outspoken Violet, the woman who inspires Maude to think there is another way, faces her own challenges; an angry husband who punishes her with his fists, a daughter trapped in the same system as she is, being preyed upon by the manager at the laundry they both work in, and finally being trapped by the lack of rights she has over her own body. The fabulous Helena Bonham Carter plays an excellent Edith Ellyn, pharmacist and militant with a fierce intellect and a supportive husband, who connects Maude and Violet to Mrs Pankhurst, played regally by Queen of Acting Meryl Streep.
There are also plenty of men in the film, and I was intrigued to see how they were going to be portrayed throughout. I was pleasantly surprised by how nuanced each character was, the only out and out ‘baddie’ was Maude’s wet-blanket of a husband, played by the super talented Ben Wishaw. His lack of understanding and concerns over what other people thought of himself and Maude made him cowardly and pathetic, but his fear of change and social ostracism is understandable. A gloriously bearded Brendan Gleeson appears as Maude’s adversary, Steed, a man whose unshakeable faith in the law and its implementation becomes tainted by the end of the film. He is concerned about the horrors of force-feeding and is actively trying to prevent Maude’s downfall, albeit fro a patriarchal perspective. The aforementioned laundry manager, Mr. Taylor, is the only a-typical and two-dimensional villain, his wandering hands and power over the woman who work for him make him the films only figure of hate, he also doesn’t get his comeuppance, no one does, in fact all the women are worse off at the end of the film than they were in the beginning, tired and bruised, but all the more unwilling to give up the fight.
My only two problems with Suffragette were as follows; firstly it is totally outrageous that this is the first time the story of female suffrage in Britain has been brought to the big screen, more of that please, and rounds of rapturous applause must go to Sarah Gavron, the director, and Abi Morgan the writer, for creating this beautiful film. Secondly, The Emily Davison issue. Now, I don’t think I’m going to be ruining any plot twists by saying that Emily ends up under the king’s horse, but what I was concerned about was how she went to her death. I am a firm believer in the theory that Davison was killed in a stunt gone wrong, woefully underestimating the power and speed of a racehorse she dashed out and attempted to place a sash round the neck of the king’s horse, but was run down on the track. Karen and I really didn’t appreciate that the film made Davison look like a zealous martyr, which she became after her death, but which I can’t believe she was in life, this was not a suicide driven by her suffragette beliefs, she had purchased a return ticket home, later found in her pocket.
All in all it was beautifully shot and lit, it made me cry, it made me angry, and it made me sure that Anne Marie Duff and Carey Mulligan are unbelievably great. This will become a real modern classic, studied and re-watched and handed down for years to come, lets just hope it’s not the last film of its kind, but the first of many about the suffrage movement. I hear Lena Dunham is currently developing a TV programme about the Second Wave of feminism, a very different take on a very different part of our history, and I can’t wait to see it.
Verdict: 4/5 A genuine must see for everyone, moving and beautifully shot, just make sure you watch it with someone you feel comfortable crying in front of.