Set in 1912, Suffragette unfolds the story of Maud Watts, a young wife and mother unintentionally swept up in the women’s suffrage movement. The film is largely work of fiction blended with real historical events and figures to recreate the turbulent fight for the female vote in Great Britain.
Suffragette offers a snapshot of London prior to the outbreak of the First World War when the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) actively pursued the right to vote through acts of civil disobedience, militancy and insurgency. While watching Suffragette I experienced a scale of emotions ranging from rage to gratitude. I recognise that the historical plight of white women may only be one tiny glimmer in the universe of social injustice, but this film highlights how the success of the Suffragette movement also set a new precedent for other disenfranchised groups seeking greater freedoms through the power of persistence.
Women peacefully campaigned for the right to vote before turning to rebellion, but for decades their voice was mute to an all male parliament. In 1903 Emmeline Pankhurst founded the WSPU, an organisation that actively encouraged women to use “deeds, not words” to bring about social change, using tactics like window smashing, setting post boxes alight, committing acts of arson, damaging property and heckling parliamentarians. Suffragette resistance was met with the brutality of the police, they were physically assaulted, force fed, imprisoned, and separated from their children and families. Suffragette tracks the evolution of Maud from passive bystander to political activist, demonstrating how even the mildest of rebels were punished severely and treated with contempt.
Despite the eventual victory of the Suffragette movement and the massive gains that have been achieved over time, the presence of sexism and sexist rhetoric is still alive and thriving in some of the highest positions of power globally. Politics is riddled with misogyny, especially in my homeland of Australia where our core political parties are more intent on maintaining the patriarchal bias than actively encouraging a more equal balance of power.
The first wave of feminism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries laid the foundations for female emancipation, but incredulously I have recently seen how uncomfortable the word feminism makes people feel, even women. The phrase “I’m not a feminist” is just incomprehensible to me. Why does this word still carry such unattractive and unfeminine connotations that young women are afraid to own?
Suffragette is a bittersweet journey. We may have come a long way over the course of a century, but the road to gender equality is an arduous odyssey with many miles still untrodden.
Suffragette features amazing performances from Carey Mulligan as Maud, Helena Bonham Carter as Edith, Anne-Marie Duff as Violet, Romola Garai as Alice, and Meryl Streep makes a brief triumphant appearance as Emmeline Pankhurst, the founder of the WSPU. Released by Pathé and distributed by Transmission Films and Focus Features, Suffragette was written by Sarah Gavron and Abi Morgan.
There was one quote in particular that almost compelled me to embarrassingly clap in the cinema when Maud reaches the end of her tether during police questioning, “we break windows, we burn things because war is the only language men listen to” she states with a fire in her eye.
I cried while watching Suffragette, but mostly with pride. Modern women are strong and resilient because of the courageous women who stood up for what was fair. As Maud says, women are in every home and half the population, there is no way to stop us all. I loved this film and recommend it to men and women alike. I have always taken my right to vote seriously, and even more so now.
You can watch the Suffragette trailer below or read more about the film on the Transmission Films website. If you enjoyed this Suffragette film reflection, you will find a whole stash of cinematic masterpieces right over here.