Director: Sarah Gavron
Released: October 2015 (UK), November 2015 (Canada)
Carey Mulligan: an underpaid, abused, laundry worker; a loving wife and doting mother. Demure Maud Watts falls in with a group of suffragettes, much to her husband’s chagrin. The group takes to public civil disobedience to garner support for votes for women. Watts reluctantly appears before Chancellor of the Exchequer Court, David Lloyd George (who later became Prime Minister), where she testifies to the lower wages and more dangerous work assigned to women in the laundry.
Helena Bonham Carter: Edith Ellyn, a respected pharmacist and known militant suffragette who campaigns and “agitates” for legal reform to allow women to vote. She and her husband both served jail-time for suffrage related activities. Ellyn is the organizing force for most of the main suffragette characters.
Brendan Gleeson: Police Inspector Arthur Steed arrests, interrogates, and intimidates the women who campaign for legal reform. Reminiscent of gangland detectives in HBO’s The Wire, Steed photographs suffragettes and preys on them in hopes of turning them on their friends.
Anne-Marie Duff: Violet Miller, a fellow laundry worker, is caught between fighting for women’s voting rights and struggling to provide for her family. Considered a delinquent worker and stigmatized as an outcast, she served several prison sentences for her activism. Her young daughter also endures abuse as a laundry worker.
Ben Whishaw: Sonny Watts, husband of Maud Watts, also works in the laundry. Mr. Watts endures shame and derision from coworkers and neighbours as a result of his wife’s actions. Ultimately, he forces a life-changing sacrifice upon himself and his wife.
Meryl Streep: Emmeline Pankhurst, founder of the Women’s Suffrage and Political Union, gives inflammatory speeches to women’s rights activists. The film has been credited for its accuracy in depicting the divide between more aggressive “suffragettes” like Pankhurst and more moderate “suffragists”, including Pankhurst’s own daughter, Sylvia.
Natalie Press: Emily Wilding Davison, a well-known suffragette and confidante of Pankhurst. A seasoned veteran of the militant phase of the suffrage movement in England, she was incarcerated nine times and torturously force-fed forty-nine times.
Suffragette is a fictional historical drama set in London, UK, in 1912-1913, which follows the main character Maud Watts as she enters the women’s suffrage movement. Overall it is engaging and, at times, graphic. I’ll try not to spoil the story for you, but do note that some of the content is quite emotional. One scene in particular had me babbling like a baby. Other scenes were difficult to watch, such as the police beating women who were angrily, yet peacefully, protesting parliament’s unwillingness to reform the suffrage laws. Some of the scenes depicting suffragettes in jail were disturbing, especially when those enduring hunger strikes were force-fed through tubes plunged down their nasal passages. The hunger strikes were significant because suffragettes were not considered political prisoners. The authorities would not risk death of a prisoner by starvation as it would draw media attention to the movement.
Watts’s entry into suffrage activism was not calculated. Moreover, her testimony at the Court of Exchequer related to the working conditions at the laundry where she worked. Specifically, the “laundresses” had more difficult and dangerous tasks than their male colleagues, they worked longer hours, were paid less, and some endured sexual abuse. Initially, Watts is more focused on improving working conditions for women than she is on getting the vote, perhaps because, as her husband reminds her, getting the vote for working class women was a pipe dream. During the time that this film takes place, 1912-1913, working-class women like Watts and Miller had more obstacles preventing them from voting than just their gender. The United Kingdom enfranchised women over the age of thirty who met minimum property requirements in 1918, after the second world war. However, women who did not own property eventually received the right to vote in 1928.
The three historically accurate characters in the film are David Lloyd George, Emmeline Pankhurst, and Emily Wilding Davison. Pankhurst, the famous suffragette, makes an inciteful speech in the film, which accurately depicts her life as a fugitive. The film also references fracturing in the suffrage movement between militant and moderate activists, including Pankhurst’s own daughter. The activism, experience, and sacrifice for the movement by Emily Wilding Davison (played by Natalie Press) is also historically accurate. Spoiler alert: click here for actual footage of Davison’s extreme sacrifice to rattle lawmakers enough that they would realize the desperation of women who sought voting rights.
Overall, the film was enjoyable and engaging with a great cast. One need not be a feminist, in any sense of the word, to understand the human struggle portrayed by the characters. And speaking of "militant" suffragettes, check back tomorrow to read about women in the military.
 “Suffragette (film)”, Wikipedia (online): <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suffragette_(film)> [Wikipedia].
 Dr. Jennifer Frangos, “Emily Wilding Davison - Suffragette Martyr?”, University of Missouri--Kansas City Womens and Gender Studies, 28 October 2013 (online): <http://info.umkc.edu/wgs/2013/10/28/emily-wilding-davison-suffragette-and-radical/> [Frangos].
 Wikipedia, supra note 1.
 AO Scott, “Review: In ‘Suffragette’, Feminist Insight That’s About More Than the Vote”, The New York Times, 22 October 2015 (online): <http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/23/movies/review-in-suffragette-feminist-insight-thats-about-more-than-the-vote.html?referrer=google_kp&_r=0>.
 “Emmeline Pankhurst (1858 - 1928)”, BBC Historic Figures (online): <http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/pankhurst_emmeline.shtml>.
 Frangos, supra note 2.