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October 13, 2015

Suffragette

Suffragette-009s.jpg

The singular title is a clue: this film is the story of one woman, not of the fragmented, divisive factions that comprised the suffragette movement. Maud Potts was a poor working woman, lacking any of the resources of the affluent Pankhurst family. Played persuasively by Carey Mulligan (above, courtesy of Allstar/Focus Features), she worked in a Bethnal Green laundry in punishing conditions. The photography of early 20th century London scenes is credible and compelling, and it makes a thought-provoking evening viewing, albeit with some violence that is uncomfortable to watch. But it happened.

The film is splendidly crafted, with great supporting actors including Meryl Streep, Anne-Marie Duff and Helena Bonham-Carter. The screenplay, production and direction seem to be all-female but this is not a strident film, it is sober, factual, some might say almost "masculine" in its approach.

The film charts Maud's somewhat haphazard recruitment into the women's movement and how she is radicalised by brutal treatment in that male-dominated world. Her transformation from downtrodden wife and worker to effective campaigner exacts a terrible price, which she pays through her husband's savage reaction, the removal of her son, her imprisonment and violent force-feeding.

The film culminates with Maud as a witness to Emily Davison's still-controversial death in a last-minute decision at the 1913 Derby. Although this attracted worldwide press attention, arguably it wasn't until women had worked so hard in World War 1 that male political opinon started to shift. In 1918, a minority of women were given votes, but it wasn't until 1928 that British women gained suffrage on equal terms with men.

In a world that has now largely accepted women not only as voters, but also as political leaders, movie-goers may be baffled to learn that male prejudice was so deeply entrenched, so recently.  But countries such as Switzerland and Portugal caught up with equal suffrage only in the 1970s, and in South Africa black women (along with black men) were enfranchised only in 1994. In Saudi Arabia, the first women registered to vote in August 2015.

If you are female and haven't always used your vote, please watch this film. If you are male, please watch it whether you vote or not. It tells a very important story that deserves to be remembered.

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