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Moving Period Piece Recounts British Females’ Fight for the Right to Vote

 

Suffragette

Film Review by Kam Williams

Moving Period Piece Recounts British Females’ Fight for the Right to Vote

Nowadays, most females take access to the ballot box for granted. Nevertheless, they owe a big debt of gratitude to the mostly unsung Suffragettes who made great sacrifices for decades before securing that hard-fought right.

In the United States, women got the vote in 1919 via the 19th Amendment. The year before, England granted the franchise to females over 30 who were either landowners, college grads or married to a politician. However, a decade later, it was finally extended to all British citizens over 21 on an equal basis.

Suffragette, Film Review, docudrama, heroines

Directed by Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane), Suffragette is a moving docudrama set in London during the critical period leading up to Parliament’s passage of the Representation of the People Act of 1918. The film serves up a substantially fictionalized version of events, as only a couple of the characters here were real-life heroines, namely, Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) and Emily Wilding Davison (1872-1913), portrayed by Meryl Streep and Natalie Press, respectively.

Streep merely makes a cameo appearance as Pankhurst, a pioneer reduced by advanced age to playing an inspirational role in the movement at that juncture. Still, that doesn’t mean the perennial Academy Award-contender won’t net her 20th Oscar nomination for delivering yet another sterling performance. The picture’s other historical figure, Davison, was a fiery activist who was periodically imprisoned for advocating arson, stone throwing and other violent tactics in her zealous pursuit of the vote.   

Suffragette, Film Review, docudrama, heroines

The movie revolves around Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), a protagonist primarily a creation of scriptwriter Abi Morgan’s (The Iron Lady) imagination. Curiously, she’s initially less a suffragette than a fed up, steam laundry employee ostensibly motivated by a general desire to improve women’s lot, especially in terms of wages, sexual harassment and safe working conditions.

In many respects, Maud’s persona is suspiciously reminiscent of Norma Rae (1979), the feisty union organizer played by Sally Field in an Oscar-winning turn. Might Morgan have deliberately crafted Maud for Mulligan with an Academy Award in mind?

Who knows, but the parallels are hard to ignore. Both characters are uneducated, underpaid factory workers . Both have their consciousness raised with the help of a colleague. And both have unsupportive husbands opposed to their sudden embrace of political activism.

Suffragette, Film Review, docudrama, heroines

Similarities aside, Suffragette ultimately proves to be a poignant reminder of just how far women have come over the past century. Oh, and yes, the very capable Carey Mulligan is likely to be remembered come awards season, too.

Excellent (4 stars)

Rated PG-13 for intense violence, mature themes, brief profanity and partial nudity                       

Running time: 106 minutes

Distributor: Focus Features

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