November 15, 2015 -- Like the made for TV movie, “Iron Jawed Angels” (2004) this film is about women fighting for the right to vote, but this time the fight is in a different country, England. Although these events happened over 100 years ago, it wasn't really all that long ago that women in England and the U.S. got the right to vote, and their struggle for equality continues to this day, all over the world.
This film is based on actual events culminating in 1913. A group of women activists, frustrated by years of no political gains from peaceful protests and requests for government action, decide to push ahead with civil disobediance and violence, including bombings and cutting telegraph wires.
The main character is Maud Watts (played by Carey Mulligan of “An Education”) a young mother who has endured years of sexual abuse at a laundry where she works to help support her family. She recognizes a fellow worker, Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff of “Before I Go to Sleep”) at a violent protest for women's suffrage (the right to vote) and slowly gets drawn into the movement.
The government opposition brings in an investigator, Inspector Arthur Steed (Brendan Gleeson of “Calvary”) to find the top people in the women's suffrage movement. Interestingly, he uses cameras for surveillance. Hand-held cameras were new at the time, and this allowed photographs of suffragettes to be taken without them knowing it. Steed is a clever fellow who has some sympathy and respect for the suffragettes, but is determined to do his job, which is to gather evidence against them, arrest them and aid in their prosecution.
At first, Maud Watts tries to be active in the fringes of the Suffragette movement while keeping her marriage and laundry job. But she becomes more active, and is arrested during a protest. She loses her job and is thrown out by her husband. She is denied the right to see her children. Her oldest boy is adopted by another family against her will. In an emotional farewell scene, she tells the boy to remember who she is, and who he is.
Maud at first denies she is a suffragette, but later declares it proudly. She becomes a confidant to leaders of the movement, Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter of the “Harry Potter” movies) Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep of “August: Osage County”) and Emily Davison (Natalie Press of “My Summer of Love”).
While Maud and Edith Ellyn are both fictional characters, Pankhurst and Davison were historical figures in the suffrage movement. Edith Ellyn is based on Edith Garrud, another historical suffragette, and the woman who plays Edith in the movie, Helena Bonham Carter, is the great-granddaughter of H. H. Asquith, the English Prime Minister during the main years of the suffrage movement.
The film reveals how few rights women had at this point in history. For instance, their husbands had superior custody of children, and a superior claim to the family's money and property. This seems strange to us in the 21st Century, but some of these same issues are still with us in shifting abortion laws and legal battles over who has custody of frozen human eggs and embryos.
Carey Mulligan gives a wonderful performance in this film as a woman who becomes radicalized, and pays the price for it. Brendan Gleeson is a heavy in this story, but he's not a simple bad guy, just a guy doing his job. The story is somewhat compelling and interesting from a historical standpoint. This film rates a B.
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