OK – Serious Inside Voice for this one – although these ladies are obliged to use their Outside Voices more than once. Tch, tch, Ladies…. Pleeeze!
Everyone knows the names Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Wilding Davison, right? We, educated and socially aware sisters growing up in the 70’s and 80’s, learnt that we have the vote because women chained themselves to railings and one threw herself under the King’s Horse.
We know they were imprisoned in Holloway gaol and force fed when they went on hunger strike. Tortuous goings on to women who had to break the law to be heard. Their Outside Voices were not enough.
We stand on their shoulders.
In Suffragette we see the world of the female foot soldiers who threw rocks at shop windows and committed acts of violence to change their world. And ours. Women on the poverty line fought as hard as the privileged women who, arguably, were less vulnerable because of their position in society. But working women had so much more to lose and that, of course, makes a better movie.
Carrie Mulligan, an actress who has yet to impress me with much depth, plays Maud. Like many revolutionaries, she only succeeds after she’s nothing left. We see her gain confidence and strength only after her life is all she has to bargain with. She tells an ever-so-slightly sympathetic policeman played by Brendan Gleeson:
“What you gonna do? Lock us all up. We’re half the human race you can’t stop us all”.
We get a fleeting glance of Lady Meryl making an Impassioned Balcony Speech as Mrs Pankhurst but the much more interesting story puts us in an East End laundry where working class women of little-to-no education started work at 12 years old, were abused by the men who employed them and put in ungodly hours of backbreaking work all their foreshortened lives.
Screenwriter Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady, Shame) cleverly and subtly weaves in other inequalities of the time. A husband had to sign a cheque for his wife even if the money belonged to her. No birth control and unequal pay are also highlighted. That we now enjoy two out of three of those privileges is progress, I suppose. This film is dramatic, moving and educational which I’m sure is the point.
In my opinion, the real heroine in Sarah Gavron’s (Brick Lane) film is Emily Wilding Davison, despite being portrayed only in a supporting role. Two years prior to throwing herself under a horse at The Derby, she’d hidden herself in a cupboard in Westminster in order to be able to fill in the census form that her place of residence that night had been the Houses of Parliament. Tony Benn and, did you know, Jeremy Corbyn placed a plaque there to commemorate her overnight stay. Fancy that! Jez is a feminist too!
The vote for all women didn’t come until 1928. In 1918, so many men had been lost in World War One, only women over 30 were granted the vote. The fear was that women might possibly outnumber male voters and overrun the country. Now there’s a thought, girls…
Rating: **** out of 5