It’s 1912. To be a woman in England is the equivalent of having no voice in nearly all aspects of society, but to be a poor woman is much worse—working in factories from the time you are old enough to walk to the time you die due to the deplorable living conditions as we discover from following the story of fictional character Maud Watts (Carrie Mulligan) in the movie “Suffragette,” the latest film from director Sarah Gavron.
From the beginning, Watts observes the inequalities of the world around her as a neutral bystander. She turns her head and looks the other way as her boss, Mr. Taylor (Geoff Bell), sexually harasses his female employees.
On her way home from work at the Laundry Glass, she unintentionally encounters a group of women throwing rocks at a store window. The police brutally attack these women in an attempt to control them. Watts recognizes one of these women as one of the laundresses from work, who later encourages her to take action at all costs, which will potentially include her job, marriage and family.
In a short time, Watts goes from being the average working-class woman to a radical suffragette who truly believes that there will be a day when little girls will have the same opportunities as their brothers.
Meryl Streep makes a brief appearance as the living statuary of Emmeline Pankhurst, a charismatic leader of the British women’s suffrage movement. Despite Streep’s heavy presence on posters and the film’s trailer, it is apparent that her role is to simply give the film an additional sense of credibility. In her screen time, Streep is called on to show the surmountable sense of passion Pankhurst possessed towards the movement.
“Suffragette” strongly depicts the emotional and physical fight that women put up with to have their voices heard throughout England after constantly being pushed down and beaten by their male counterparts. When asked why the suffragettes feel the need to act out in violence by Inspector Steed (Brendan Gleeson), Watts passionately responds, “We break windows. We burn things. Because war is the only language men listen to.”
In landmark scenes like this, it is obvious that Mulligan fully embraces Watts’ character in a way that is so convincing that these words ring true long after the film’s credits.
From watching this film, there is a laundry list of agendas that Gavron attempts to tackle. It does acknowledge the ways in which an upper-class suffragette, such as Alice Houghton (Romola Garai), can publicly stand for women’s rights, yet sidestep the consequences of protesting while remaining under the power of her politician husband (Samuel West). Houghton’s husband buys her out of jail time, while the other poor women activists are left behind to go on hunger strikes—refusing to eat for days leading up to their early release.
Though many ideas, such as equal pay and other more modern notions, are acknowledged, they are not explored in much depth. The film attempts to accomplish too much until it abruptly ends leaving the viewers to wonder the realities of how much things have truly changed and yet, stayed the same over the last century.
3.5 out of 5 stars