Ninety-seven years after women were given the vote in England, Focus Features released Suffragette, a British historical drama commemorating the achievements of the Women’s Suffrage movement. Starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Anne-Marie Duff, Suffragette skilfully captures the bravery and fortitude of these noble women.
The film focuses on the experiences of Maud Watts (played by Mulligan), a fictional composite of many working class women fighting for equality. Maud works in the Bethnal Green Laundry and, like many working women of the time, is treated terribly by her boss, who sexually abuses women who work for him.
Throughout the film Maud comes to realise the inherent injustices of society as she grows more and more involved with the suffrage movement, to the anger and distaste of her family and community.
The film demonstrates the incredible struggle that suffragettes experienced, from hunger strikes and police violence to arrests and complete ostracization. It also reveals the stigma that was, for a long time, bizarrely attached to the belief that women should have equality with their male counterparts.
Indeed, the protagonist is kicked out of her house by her husband and is forced to sleep on the streets away from her son, simply because of her commitment to women’s suffrage.
This is precisely what happened to numerous suffragettes. For example, Mary Gawthorpe, one of the WSPU’s most successful organisers, described in her autobiography how her engagement was broken off because of her beliefs. This is one aspect of the movement that is often forgotten: the huge sacrifice that these women gave, not just in terms of their safety and their health, but also in terms of their personal and working lives.
The film has, however, received some criticism for “white-washing” the Suffrage movement, a movement that we know involved a number of coloured women. For example, the Indian princess Sophia Duleep Singh worked tirelessly with the Suffragettes, though her legacy has been largely forgotten.
Despite this flaw, the film is incredibly inspiring. These noble women stood up to the abuse they suffered from bosses, family and friends, and their legacy ought to encourage us all to fight against the inequalities in society.
If it weren’t for the likes of Emily Davison and Emmeline Pankhurst (both of whom feature in the film), then women wouldn’t have the same freedoms they have today. But the film’s somewhat swift and unexpected ending eloquently illustrates the need for feminism in the modern world: the fight is by no means over.
And so, Suffragette teaches us that we must continue to support the rights of all people throughout the world, even if that means making sacrifices in our own lives. It teaches us that progress can be made, but only if we fight for it: “If you want me to respect the law, make the law respectable,” as one protester says in the film.