In the early days of the feminist movement, women were forced underground to pursue a dangerous game of cat and mouse with an increasingly brutal State. These women were not primarily from the genteel educated classes, they were working women who had seen peaceful protest achieve nothing. Radicalized and turning to violence as the only route to change, they were willing to lose everything in their fight for equality - their jobs, their homes, their children and their lives. Maud (Carey Mulligan) was one such foot soldier.
Review by Louise Keller:
Tight close ups accentuate the personal nature of this story, in which one woman's fight for women's rights leads us into the broader view of the suffragette cause. Elevated by Carey Mulligan's heartfelt performance as Maud, repressed worker, wife and mother, we cannot help but be moved by her plight as she inadvertently is caught up with the movement. She loses everything, but in the process gains self-respect. While the film resonates on many levels with its meticulous production design and authentic reflection of the times (1912 London), the composite nature of the characters makes the narrative feel somewhat contrived. This stops a good film from being a great one.
The second collaboration between director Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane, 2007) and screenwriter Abi Morgan (Shame, Iron Lady, 2011), the film is a powerful reminder of the relatively short amount of time it has been since women's rights began their journey along the railroad track of change.
Our journey is through Maud's eyes, when a series of events change her view of life as she knows it. Her background working tirelessly in horrific conditions at an East End laundry where she has worked since her tender years, is well depicted in the early scenes. There, women are treated as slaves and where sex on demand is part of the requirement. Life with Maud's non-compromising husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw, effective) is no bed of roses either - she is slave to his demands. Her only happiness comes through her young son George (Adam Michael Dodd). Everything changes following a series of events that lead her to give testimony at a Parliamentary hearing in favour of women's voting rights. Then she spontaneously voices her unformed innermost thoughts (and hopes) that there might be 'another way of life'.
Meryl Streep's all-too-brief cameo as the famed Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst works well, while Helena Bonham Carter is ideally cast as Edith, the inspiring local chemist who runs the covert Suffragette base, where the 'foot soldiers' congregate. Morgan's screenplay depicts the bonds forged by the various women and the lengths to which they are prepared to go for their beliefs. Ann-Maree Duff and Romola Garai as ardent suffragettes are an asset to the excellent cast.
The crowd scenes when police violently beat and arrest the women are confronting, as are the humilities the women are forced to endure.. The force-feeding scene in jail is horrific and difficult to watch, reminding us of the barbaric treatments in place. But the physical hardships are nothing compared to the emotional ones and the heartbreaking scene between Maud and her little son rips at our core. Brendan Gleeson is a strong presence as the steely Inspector Steed, although to his detriment, he bears all the trademarks of a composite character.
The second half of the film is the strongest as tensions escalate in the lead-up to the climactic Derby Day scene when the women plan to 'do something the King can't ignore'. The pace steps up as events play out and our hearts are in our mouth as Maud and her colleague Emily (Natalie Press) weave their way through the race-day crowd.
The subject matter leaves us with food for thought, especially in the context of dates and countries listed in the closing credits, when women were granted the vote. It is hard to believe that women in Qatar were only granted the vote in 2003 and even more incredulous, the fact that today - in 2015 - the women from Saudia Arabia are still waiting for the promise to be fulfilled.
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CAST: Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff, Grace Stottor, Ben Whishaw, Amanda Lawrence, Shelley Longworth, Adam Michael Dodd, Sarah Finigan, Finbar Lynch
PRODUCER: Alison Owen, Faye Ward
DIRECTOR: Sarah Gavron
SCRIPT: Abi Morgan
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Eduard Grau
EDITOR: Barney Pilling
MUSIC: Alexandre Desplat
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Alice Normington
RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 26, 2015