Film & Television

Movie Review: ‘Suffragette’: Well Done, Sisters

I went to see the new film Suffragette on the day it opened in Boston. While I was waiting for it to start, I tried to recall other movies that addressed the women’s suffrage movement. The only thing I could think of was the scene in Mary Poppins when Mrs. Banks (the delightful Glynis Johns) and her staff sing “Well done, Sister Suffragette.” My favorite lyric has always been: “Though we adore men individually, we agree that as a group, they’re rather stupid.”

The men in Suffragette aren’t stupid. They’re opinionated, self-righteous, misogynistic and downright brutal. But, they are not stupid. In fact, they employ all manner of strategy and technology (including the then innovative use of surveillance photography) to bring down “the Cause” and the “criminals” behind it.

Based on historical events, Suffragette is a story of awakening. Fictitious heroine Maud Watts is played, at first with resignation and then with inner fire, by young British actress Carey Mulligan. Maud’s life is predictable, common and hopeless. She was born in the Glasshouse Laundry and employed there from age seven, gradually gaining greater responsibilities but paid less than her male colleagues. She’s also been the target of unwanted advances from her boss but he’s since moved on to newer, younger workers. Maud lives in a small flat with her sweet if traditional-minded husband (who also works at the laundry) and a small son. Poor and uneducated, Maud becomes an accidental activist.

One evening, she’s asked to deliver a package and winds up in front of an elaborate window display in one of London’s department stores. Maud takes a moment to admire it but is abruptly interrupted by women throwing rocks and shouting, “Votes for Women.” The police arrive and make short work of the protesters while Maud escapes onto an omnibus, bruised and horrified by the scene she’s witnessed.

Maud gradually embraces the movement, stepping in for a battered colleague to testify before Parliament, attending meetings and rallies, and finally committing acts of terrorism. Her courage and self-esteem grow. She dares to dream of a better life, but it comes at a terrible price. She loses her job, her home, husband and beloved child.

Through Maud’s journey, we realize that the suffrage movement was not about politics, per se. It was about how the world treated half of its citizens. Maud has no rights, no protection whatsoever. In essence, women, even wealthier women, were the property of their husbands. In one chilling scene, the police apprehend women who’ve attended an illegal rally. “Don’t bother arresting them,” they’re told. “Let their husbands deal with them.”

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  • joanna c. migdal November 3, 2015 at 10:15 am

    I saw the movie at a screening and have been spreading the word. Yes, very powerful indeed. I would recommend that audiences stay in their seats at the very end when there is a scroll of listing of countries and dates of women’s voting rights….very shocking, as you’ll see.
    thank you for sharing this very well-done review!