Vol. 9, No. 4 – November 25 – December 8, 2015 – Movie Review

Suffragette/4 Palm Trees

By Eduardo Victoria/[email protected]

It took many “suffragettes” to force changes in voting laws, but the use of the word in this movie’s title is singular. The story of the fight for women suffrage in early 20th century Britain is told through the eyes and the experiences of a young laundress named Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan). Maud has strong, barely-concealed feelings about the way women are treated in her society, but an activist she is not. At first victimized when caught in the middle of a suffragette rock-throwing incident, she is pulled into the movement by her co-worker, Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff), and a local pharmacist named Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter). When Maud is present for a stinging political defeat and soon after witnesses an inspiring secret appearance by the movement’s real-life godmother, Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep), Maud’s all in.

The conflicts in the streets and in the halls of government quickly start to become very personal for Maud, just as they did for many real-life suffragettes. Attending secret meetings of the suffragettes, she finds herself in the middle of arguments over tactics and strategies, as well as under the threat of arrest, as the group becomes more militant. She’s also caught between the group and the authorities who (in the person of Brendan Gleeson’s character) think her to be a weak link in the suffragette chain and try to force her to turn informant.

As with the other suffragettes, Maud’s commitment to the cause also has implications on the job – and in her home, where Maud’s husband, Sonny (Ben Whishaw), finds himself torn between his love for his wife and overwhelming social pressures to “deal with” her as she aligns herself with the suffragettes. Even Maud’s relationship with her young son is threatened by her role in the movement. This story benefits from Abi Morgan’s excellent script, Sarah Gavron’s sure-handed direction and the outstanding performances of all the main characters, particularly Mulligan’s, which makes us see, understand and feel how much suffragettes suffered for their cause.

Suffragette does for the women suffrage movement what 2014’s Selma did for the American civil rights movement. Much like the earlier fight to abolish slavery, the later struggle for civil rights or the more recent issue of LGBT rights, taking a look back at what it took to get women the right to vote reminds us that attaining social justice for all members of society takes time, effort, patience and sacrifice and it’s rarely pretty, but a fight on the side of right eventually triumphs.        The film tells us its ideals in a very clear and entertaining fashion – both in the context of this story’s specific issues shown and in the broader context of the ongoing struggle for equal rights by different groups of people in different countries all around the world. It isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it’s a very well-made and worthwhile look at a very important time in world history, and with important implications for the world as we know it.

Now playing at Cinemark downtown 10. Rated PG-13

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