Suffragette, rated PG-13
This film shows the battle for women’s right to vote in political elections, or suffrage, in England in 1911-13. It is directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan, who wrote the screenplay for Iron Lady, starring Meryl Streep. Streep, who is a three-time Oscar winner and has an incredible nineteen Oscar nominations, appears in this film as well, though it is misleading to have her on the movie posters or DVD boxes, as she appears in just one short scene, lasting no more than five minutes, in the film. She portrays Emmeline Pankhurst, the figurehead of the suffrage movement.
The film chooses to focus on a fictional character named Maud (Carey Mulligan, Oscar nominee for 2009’s An Education). As the film begins, Maud lives happily with her husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw, “Q” in the James Bond films Spectre and Skyfall), and their young son George (Adam Michael Dodd). Maud and Sonny work in a laundry, with bad working conditions, low wages and a sexual predator for a boss. Maud has spent her entire life in the laundry, having been born to a mother who also worked there.
A co-worker at the laundry, Violet (Anne-Marie Duff), is involved in the suffrage movement and invites Maud to secret meetings led by Edith (Helena Bonham Carter, two-time Oscar nominee) and her husband Hugh (Finbar Lynch). Edith is a pharmacist who we see breaking laws that she wasn’t allowed to vote on.
In a key scene in the film Violet is to testify about the hardship of women in front of a panel led by future Secretary of State for War Lloyd George (Adrian Schiller). When she can’t testify, having been badly beaten, Maud reluctantly does so. Rather than following the prepared statement, she shares from her heart, impressing George. However, when George later informs the women gathered that the suffrage bill didn’t pass, a protest breaks out. The police brutally batter women, including Maud, while Inspector Steed (Brendan Gleeson) looks on. Steed is overall kind to Maud throughout the film however, seeing the working-class women taking the front-line risks in the movement that the upper-class women would not take.
This begins a pattern of arrests for Maud, who deceives her husband about her involvement in the movement. This leads to personal consequences for Maud. We later see her refusing to eat in jail, being involved with Edith and others in bombings and the blowing up of Lloyd-George’s summer home. All of this culminates with a scene at “Derby Day”, where King George is entered as a rider.
We see women making sacrifices (family, jobs and life itself) and repeatedly breaking the law in pursuit of the ability to vote and later better working conditions and wages. I would have preferred for the film to have been more focused on the movement. Instead, much of it was about the fictional story of Maud and her family – thus my lower rating for the film.
Mulligan delivers a solid performance as Maud. Bonham Carter is even stronger as Edith, and Gleeson is excellent in an understated performance as Inspector Steed. The film is rated PG-13 for a small amount of adult language, violence and one brief scene of nudity when women are stripped of their clothing and given uniforms in jail.