In a nutshell: Suffragette is a powerful rage-driven depiction of the fight for female equality of the suffragettes, and the resistance of the State against their activism.
Australian release date: 26 December 2015
It wasn’t until 1914 that women were granted the right to vote in the UK, preceding which the suffragette movement led by Emmeline Pankhurst (played here by Meryl Streep) engaged in a long, bitter fight for equality. This powerful, angry film picks up on that fight in the early part of the 20th century, pulling no punches in depicting the radicalism of the suffragettes and the brutal response of the State to their activism, which included violent protest and even terrorism.
The story focuses on laundry worker Maud (Carey Mulligan), who devotes her energies to her child and husband (Ben Wishaw), and is only dimly aware of the suffragettes. Thus, she declines the invitation of a fellow worker to attend a suffragette rally. When she happens by the demonstration as things turn unruly, she is drawn into the throng and witnesses protesters suffering physical intimidation and abuse at the hands of the police. This gets her thinking, as does a conversation with a proselytizing suffragette pharmacist (Helena Bonham Carter) and the plight of a 14-year-old employee in her workplace being sexually harassed by the repulsively leering boss. This pig has form as a pedophile predator exploiting the power of his position, having also imposed himself on Maud at a similar age. Thus the seeds of her active involvement with the movement are sown.
Her initially improbable transformation from political ingénue to foot soldier in the vanguard of the suffragettes is brilliantly handled through superb scripting and a powerhouse performance from Mulligan, back to her very best after a couple of recent lapses. Actually, better than her best – this is a career high point from a talented actor beginning to realise her huge potential.
Indeed, all the cast are fired up, combining to invest the film with a momentous sense of rage that flares into outrage at times, sitting you back in your seat. There is a point to be made here, and all concerned are unreservedly committed to making it. That is, that women had a hell of a job being recognised as equal to men, that the State resorted to gross injustice such as beatings and jail sentences to shut them up and minimise their influence, and that some in the movement felt justified in resorting to extreme actions like bombing letterboxes and in one instance a high-ranking adversary’s country house. Terrorism, in other words. Shocking stuff, and no less so was the price paid by some of the activists.
Perhaps most shocking of all in the context of the film is the stance taken by Maud’s husband when she refuses to curtail her involvement in the suffragettes. Spoiler consciousness prevents elaboration. Suffice it to say that he is a decent man by the standards of the day, yet inflicts unspeakable cruelty on his wife (and child) when she refuses to subjugate herself and her beliefs.
If I may be so impudent as to opine as a male, today’s pissweak brand of feminism needs a kick in the arse. The sisters who combined forces to make this film have provided it. Now get the fuck along to the cinema and tap back into the power and passion. There is still much to be done if the women of this century are to honour the courage and heroism of the suffragettes by taking up the torch and continuing the fight for true and abiding equality unto victory.
Starts on Boxing Day.
Movie website: www.focusfeatures.com/suffragette
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