Nowadays, most women take for granted the fact that they can vote. Nevertheless, they owe a big debt of gratitude to the mostly unsung suffragettes who made great sacrifices for decades before securing that hard-fought right.
In the United States, women got the vote in 1919 when the 19th amendment to the constitution was adopted. The year before, England granted the franchise to females over 30 who were either landowners, college graduates, or married to a politician. However, a decade later, it was extended to all British citizens over 21 on an equal basis.
Directed by Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane), Suffragette is a moving documentary drama set in London during the critical period leading up to the Parliament’s passage of the Representation of the People Act of 1918. The film is a substantially fictionalized version of events, since only two of the characters here were real life heroines, namely, Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928) and Emily Wilding Davison (1872-1913), portrayed by Meryl Streep and Natalie Press, respectively.
Streep merely makes a cameo appearance as Pankhurst, a pioneer who plays an inspirational role in the movement. Still, she may earn her 20th Oscar nomination because she delivers yet another sterling performance. The picture’s other historical figure, Davison, was a fiery activist who was periodically imprisoned for advocating arson, stone throwing, and other violent tactics in her zealous pursuit of the right to vote.
The movie is about Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), a protagonist who is a creation of scriptwriter Abi Morgan’s (The Iron Lady) imagination. Initially, she’s portrayed as a fed up steam laundry employee who desires to improve women’s lot in the workplace in the areas of wages, sexual harassment, and safe working conditions.
In many respects, Maud’s persona is reminiscent of Norma Rae (1979), the feisty union organizer played by Sally Field. Suffragette is a poignant reminder of just how far women have come over the past century. Oh, and yes, the very capable Carey Mulligan is likely to be remembered come awards season, too.
Excellent (****). Rated PG-13 for intense violence, mature themes, brief profanity, and partial nudity. Running time: 106 minutes. Distributor: Focus Features.