As Maud Watts, played by the captivating Carey Mulligan, turns to her husband in bed and asks, ‘if we had a daughter, what kind of life would she have had?’ I felt a pang of resonance with the fictional East End heroine of the awards-tipped Suffragette. We may be a hundred years on, but it seems that the poignancy of this question still reverberates for many audiences today.

Directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan, Suffragette highlights the plight of equality sought by women in the late 19th, and early 20th century led by the infamous activist Emmeline Pankhurst and pinnacle by the dramatic death of Emily Davison at the Epsom Derby, which ultimately landed the women the coverage they were seeking the world over – their cause was heard, after years of peaceful protesting, they realised that deeds not words were what would make the government take note. Yet with such a rich tapestry of iconic history to play out Morgan’s writing does not allow for these women to take centre stage. With Meryl Streep appearing in a slight cameo as Pankhurst and Davison being a somewhat peripheral character played by Natalie Press, the audience instead catches a glimpse of how working-class women were affected and effected by the movement.

At its dramatic centre is a fictional character: a laundry worker named Maud Watts, played with a compressed and focused energy by Carey Mulligan. She has risen to a notionally advanced position, one of physically wearisome and soul-sapping responsibility with no actual power or pay to reflect her title, on the say-so of the obnoxious, bullying manager, Mr Taylor, [Geoff Bell]. Watts is radicalised by her experiences of arrogance and sexual abuse in the workplace – all entirely plausible – and is drawn into the movement by her friend and co-worker Violet [Anne-Marie Duff], who is to introduce her to agitators like pharmacist and covert munitions expert Edith Ellyn, played by the wonderful Helena Bonham Carter.

There are two sides to this story, either side of the class divide: there are the liberal patricians whose connections were vital; they were and are subject to ridicule and mockery – teasing which persists in movies like Kind Hearts And Coronets and Mary Poppins. But the actual foot soldiers like Maud and Violet were subject to something rougher: imprisonment, unemployment and poverty. There are tough scenes showing the catastrophic disintegration of Maud’s family and the pure grisliness of force-feeding in the case of hunger strikes.

This film does an important job in reminding us of this: a drama about human rights so recently and dearly won yet still somehow always evolving. The suffragettes fought with conviction, solidarity, passion and anger to achieve their goal – it is a truly moving piece of cinema and should be compulsive viewing for every young person, particularly every young girl who may feel uninterested or disenchanted by their stance on politics in 2015.

Maud is the everywoman, proving that those discarded as dreamers and nobodies are capable of being empowered and facilitating change. Mulligan embraces this role with subtle charm –her inner turmoil between standing by her husband and son and standing up for her freedom is a heart-wrenching watch.

Her polite and fearful reassurance to husband and eventually, the police that she is ‘not a suffragette’ is a tender nod towards her struggle. Again, it struck a chord with me and how I’ve witnessed women redeem themselves in the eyes of others by stating, ‘I’m not a feminist’. These nuanced moments beautifully encapsulate the idea of what it means to be a woman as well as a wife, a mother, a worker and subtly highlights why women’s liberation was, and of course, in many places, still is a much-needed ongoing battle.

The screen roll at the end of the film detailing the years in which women achieved equality was touching and poignantly juxtaposed by those countries which were omitted completely or still pending a decision on the right for women to vote.

A superbly acted, straight down the line reflection on a pivotal moment in history which has dropped like a pin in the political and social timeline of our society and shown how far we have come, as well as indeed, how far we have to go.

Movie Review: Suffragette
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About The Author

Emily Stockham

Emily is from South London and has a degree in English Literature. Emily is a marketing assistant who writes about films and music in her spare time. Horror and grindhouse are her thing - although she will happily watch anything if it means a trip to the cinema.