Never give up the fight
The story of Suffragette is often overlooked. I, myself, am guilty of taking my rights as a woman for granted.Naturally I vote. Of course I’m going to work. Obviously I am entitled to an education. But 100 years ago, society did not see it that way. The film Suffragette enters the arena at an interesting time. Roughly a century after the Women’s Rights movement in the United Kingdom began to gain steam, we are still endeavouring to find equality with men. In the film and media industries especially, inequality is being questioned, and fiercely so. Powerful, persuasive, and intelligent women are calling on women everywhere to act, to question biases, and to be assertive about their rights as equal to men’s.Carey Mulligan plays Maud Watts, a 24-year-old laundress in pre-WWI England. She, her husband Sonny, played by Ben Whishaw, and son George (Adam Michael Dodd) are a working-class family just getting by in east London. A far cry from what most people find standard today, the Wattses aren’t just reliant on their work to pay for their meagre existence, their very survival depends on it. Maud often toils long hours and still isn’t paid what Sonny brings in. It is also implied that she’s dealt with sexual harassment (at the very least) from her long-time employer, Mr Taylor (Geoff Bell). To not work would mean no food, no shelter, no survival.
Poor treatment is the status quo, and a laborious life is often not a long one. So when the suffragettes begin to mobilise and become vocal, Maud is reluctant to join in. Kept in check by a society that tells her her place, Maud has always played by the rules: the rules laid out by men. As the plot unfurls, we see Maud gaining a sense of not only women’s rights, but her desires and hopes as an individual, hopes and dreams she never imagined because there was no world in which those desires could manifest
Mulligan’s energy is characteristically well-channelled in this performance. Her Maud is complex, indignant, loving, unfailing, and courageous. She commits to the cause, realising her own life doesn’t have to be unimportant. The lives and potential of future generations of women shouldn’t be suffocated, and for them and herself, she fights the good fight.
Along the way, Maud is forced to make some gut-wrenching choices. More than one person in the cinema shed tears during the final scene with Maud, Sonny, and George. This was an extraordinary performance, as it showcased not only Dodd’s tremendous vulnerability, but during that sequence, the reality of the Suffragette Movement actually hit home. In historical terms, these women had no rights over their money, their property, their children, or even their own bodies once they were married. They didn’t just suffer inequality, they suffered no equality.
Carey Mulligan's Maud is complex, indignant, loving, unfailing, and courageous.
As the end credits rolled, I was perplexed at how long it has taken some countries to give women equal rights. Some still haven’t. If this film portrays society and life for women 100 years ago, my God, how far we have come, and yet how far we have to go for countless women around the globe.
Mulligan is accompanied by a host of stand-out, female talent: Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham-Carter, Romola Garai, Anne-Marie Duff, and Natalie Press, not to mention director Sarah Gavron and screenwriter Abi Morgan. The likes of Brendan Gleeson’s Inspector Steed, along with Ben Whishaw, and Geoff Bell don’t make for a very sympathetic picture of men, but then, that really isn’t the point of the film. The picture is less about bashing men than it is about drawing attention and shining a light on a worthy, and if I may say, obvious cause.
The essence of the film is repeated frequently. “Never give up the fight” says Natalie Press’s character, Emily Wilding Davison, a true suffragette whose self-harm/sacrifice was the story heard around the world in the 1910s. The discourse and dialogue must continue in regards to women’s rights. As Clare Stewart, Festival Director for the BFI’s London Film Festival, said at a screening of Suffragette, this is “the year of strong women”. Expect to see more where this comes from.
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