I love movies. I love writing about them. Hope you like reading what I write.
Has there really not been a major motion picture based on the women’s suffrage movement? This is Selma all over again! Come on Hollywood! People fighting for rights is Oscar bait gold! You don’t want any more allegations of sexism, racism and every other ism, do you?
Suffragette chronicles a story a fictionalized story of a number of women in the Woman’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), more commonly known as the suffragettes who fought for the right for women to vote in Great Britain between 1903 and 1917, through the mantra “deeds not words”.
Historical movies about protests are some of the easiest political movies to make, at least in terms of sticking to their themes and messages. In Roland Emmerich’s up and coming film about Stonewall, he simply has to have a protagonist acting as our eyes and ears to the movement in which they are gradually assimilated into and to the terrible injustices that spur it into action. (Judging by the trailer to that film, the protagonist’s probably a little too relatable, if you know what I mean, but there are plenty of articles and angry YouTube comments on that so far.)
In Suffragette, we have Carey Mulligan as our fictional stand-in Maud Watts, whose arc is the classic sceptic to revolutionary that screenwriters find perfectly comfortable to pen for. That may sound harsh, but in all seriousness, she’s a good character in all senses of the word. Well-acted, well-written and as a mother and wife, it does actually show an angle to the women’s suffrage movement I hadn’t quite considered, through all my time in school learning about it. That these were women with personal lives that could be destroyed by their protests. That’s what I took from this movie and that is one of the most disturbing things about it.
Watts is witness to some pretty terrible treatment of her peers at the hands of the dominating patriarchy, often characterized by a few recurring bad-guys. While it is well-presented and honest, for some reason I felt disconnected from it. I knew I was to be disturbed by how terrible things for women were back then and don’t get me wrong, I do know that and I appreciate that the film is trying to make that as a further point and good on it. I just wasn’t as shocked as I thought I would be, (apart from one scene which I knew was coming, but still had some impact). Maybe that’s what is shocking.
She also meets some interesting supporting players in the WSPU. Anne Marie Duff, Natalie Press, Helena Bonham Carter and others do a great job as ladies that are ticked off at being second class citizens in the then modern age of 1912. Meryl Streep comes in in a brief scene as the leader of the Suffragettes, Emmeline Pankhurst. The actress’ legendary status in real life, mirrors the mythic manner in which her character is portrayed. It’s becoming abundantly clear that Streep, with her 19 Oscar Nominations, likes to use that power to occasionally come into movies about the suppression of her sex as a pivotal player, in the same way Oprah Winfrey is doing with movies on the suppression of her race.
The fact that women used to be unable to vote is, rightly, baffling to us in 2015 and we should try to wipe out such sexism in the world today. That’s the basic message of movies like this one. Its other message is obviously that when the suppressed band together, they can accomplish the amazing. Historians continue to debate the direct impact of the woman’s suffrage movement on woman’s suffrage. Other factors include but are not limited to women’s involvement on the home-front of WWI, economic factors, the gradual evolution of voting rights for men which had been happening over the course of the late 19th century and the fact that other countries gave women the vote first. While these are valid points as to the actual granting of the vote, they are not the point of Suffragette (2015).
Whether or not the WSPU, with their window smashing and bombs, had a net positive effect in the short term, (they actually stopped campaigning years before their goal was accomplished, is largely irrelevant in the long term. Generations of girls look to these women as heroines of their time, who refused to take all that they’d been burdened with for so long any longer. This movie pays tribute to that.
But that’s not what I’m here for. The question is, is it any good?
Yes. It’s very good. I won’t call it great. There’s nothing altogether wrong with it. I just feel that it’s not got that special something that Selma had (namely some stand-out emotional kicking scenes and performances, along with a simply brilliant song). That said, should you see Suffragette? Definitely. It’s adequately written and directed and its performances are pretty good, including one from Ben Whishaw, who has been on fire recently.
My inner Higher History student wishes that they’d at least hinted at those other factors I mentioned, but that’s the sort of nit-pick that someone would poke me for at a dinner party if we were talking about this movie!
Recommended Scenario: If you want to feel a little more empowered to change the world, whoever you are.