Suffragette is a well-structured drama with high production values and good, solid performances from a strong cast. It is also an intensely problematic film.
The plot revolves around the recruitment and radicalisation of East End laundress Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) by the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), led by the formidable Mrs Pankhurst (Meryl Streep), as it embarks on a campaign of political violence cumulating in the death of Emily Wilding Davison under the hooves of the King’s horse at the 1913 Derby.
As the film progressed, I became increasingly uneasy about its unquestioning acquiescence in the WSPU’s increasingly violent tactics, whilst, quite rightly, condemning the brutal response of the British state. I gradually found myself longing for the quiet dignity of a British Rosa Parks or for somebody to point out that breaking windows and setting fire to pillar boxes demonstrates that you are a responsible citizen in much the same way that climbing up Tower Bridge in a Spiderman outfit demonstrates that you are a responsible parent.
The WSPU’s violent tactics did not win the vote for British women – if anything, they delayed it. The WSPU did not fight for the rights of the Maud Watts’s of this world – they opposed extending the franchise to working class women and, indeed, to working class men like Maud’s husband.
We have waited too long for a film about the long and complex struggle for women’s suffrage – the last thing we need is a Pankhurstian publicity stunt or an apologia for political violence.
In reply to Helen Ward: It's a movie not a factual documentary, and as a film, my anecdotal evidence suggests that it works. A friend took along his 2 teenage daughters and both of them were in tears at the violence shown against women, who in their opinion "were only demonstrating to vote". It has opened their eyes to a sorry piece of our history which our schools gloss over as if it were of little influence in our modern democracy. So I'm glad that the movie may act as a catalyst in kick-starting a move towards some more vociferous demands from young women for further equality, starting perhaps with equal pay.
Then there's the film. It comes from that worthy stable of historical soaps. The direction is wooden, the acting is concrete, in fact it's so dull it's embarrassing. Had it not been such a contentious issue, it's doubtful whether it would be gracing More4 on a wet Tuesday afternoon.