Woman or man, chances are that you’ll leave Suffragette with an overwhelming feeling of sadness; not only because it vividly depicts the oppression that women all the over the world have had to suffer to get their voice heard, but because it leaves you with the message that, even today, there are still long ways to go in terms of equal opportunites for womankind.
With this being the year where feminism in film has been a hot topic, Suffragette isn’t just timely, but vital too; a film that for all of its Victorian garb and gadgetry, feels contemporary and important in the themes that it’s dealing with.
Abi Morgan’s script is largely responsible for the film’s success on this part. What could have quite easily been a biopic about Emmeline Pankhurst – featured here and played by the untouchable Meryl Streep – is instead about an everyday, working class woman whose political and social awakening, makes the story instantly relatable to the audience.
Played by Carey Mulligan – an advocate for feminism, who played the independent Bathsheba Everdene in this year’s Far From The Madding Crowd – we see events unfold through the eyes of Maud Watts.
What’s great about the character is that she has the fight for independence thrust upon her, and at first she’s initially reluctant to join the Suffragette cause.
Maud is only twenty-four, but looks a lot older; she gets on with her life, but isn’t necessarily happy with it. Her rebellion begins with two simple words, “shut up”, as she joins in the chants with her fellow suffragettes and friends, after being ignored once again by the politicians in charge. Two simple words that make for an empowering piece of cinema.
From there on in, Suffragette is an infuriating and eye opening watch, as we have to see Maud suffer the consequences of her revolt. Morgan’s script takes us to the places you’d expect it to, with a force-feeding sequence and a finale set at the Epsom Derby in 1913; but, it takes us to plenty of other unexpected places too, which might shock even the most knowledgeable feminist.
The film is deeply affecting and made me tear up on more than one occasion, due to the injustices that our characters face. Yet, it’s strangely uplifting too in that it shows what can be achieved when the oppressed join together to face their oppressors; which we’ve seen more recently in the news with events like the Arab Spring. If this can open people’s minds and cause debate across the board – which I think it will – then that’s only a good thing.
What I particularly enjoyed though was how Suffragette managed to refrain from portraying all men as bastards. I mean, a lot of the men in the film are indeed bastards, but Abi Morgan at least fleshes them out with nuance and ambiguity.
Brendan Gleeson’s Inspector Steed, for example, is written as the mirror image of Maud in that he too is a foot soldier, doing his duty. There’s also a moment where he objects to the way in which some of the women are treated in prison, which hints that he may not be all bad, despite being the main atangonist of the piece.
For the male characters to be treated three dimensionally, is a credit to Morgan’s writing and proves, once again, that female writers are better than male writers. It also means that any guy who may dismiss the film, wrongly, as an excuse to for women to get together and ‘male-bash’ is totally misguided and has no reason whatsoever to not go see this film.
Suffragette is first and foremost about women though, and rightly so of course. The performances from Mulligan, Streep and Helena Bonham Carter – who I adored in this – are fantastic, and they bring Abi Morgan’s writing to life, so beautifully.
I implore everybody to make an effort to see this, not only for the excellent performances and masterful writing, but because it’s a story that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. It angered me beyond belief, but fascinated me too. It broke me to see how women had to live – even more so when I think about how little we’ve really come in the last hundred years – but ultimately left me with hope that things will get better. And that makes Suffragette far more thrilling and rewarding than the majority of the films released this year.
Image credit to http://www.glamour.com