Suffragette parents guide

Suffragette Parent Review

While there is no question this movie is an earnest effort to bring recognition to women’s rights, the production sadly falls short of its lofty aim.

Overall B+

When the women of England ask for the right to vote they meet with strong opposition and even brutality. This movie version of the historical fight stars Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter.

Violence C+
Sexual Content C+
Profanity C-
Substance Use C+

Suffragette is rated PG for some intense violence, thematic elements, brief strong language and partial nudity

Movie Review

Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) did not intend to become a Suffragette. Despite soapbox speeches urging her and her neighbors to demand women be given the right to vote, the twenty-four-year-old wife and mother really wasn’t converted to the cause or interested in answering their call to increased civil disobedience. Rather she just accepted as unchangeable her life of poverty and her need to endure terrible working conditions and abide by the law—even if England in 1912 favored the male gender.

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But a series of events slowly awakens within her soul a need to claim her entitlement to equal treatment. First, she discovers that one of her co-workers, Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff), is an active participant in the militant movement for political change. Then she is persuaded to speak in Parliament about the differences in health issues faced between men and women employed in the laundry industry. Next, she returns with a group of protesters anxious to hear how their testimonies have influenced the government’s decision on voting rights, only to discover the whole process has been a sham. Instead of receiving sympathy, the crowd is turned over to the police who brutally beat the peaceful demonstrators. The last straw occurs when she is one of the many to be thrown in jail.

Unfortunately neither her community nor her husband (Ben Whishaw) views her sufferings as noble. Soon the shame she has caused them takes its toll and Maud loses her marriage, her child, her home and her job. With nowhere to go, the young woman turns to her Suffragette friends and devotes all her energy to the Women’s Social and Political Union, an organization founded by activist Emmeline Pankhurst (played by Meryl Streep).

There is no question that this movie is an earnest effort to bring to light the price paid for the recognition of women’s rights. Maud Watt’s character is a compellation of many of the injustices faced by the fairer sex. As such, her trials include sexual molestation (which is verbally eluded to), witnessing sexual child abuse (an authority figure is shown cornering a twelve-year-old girl and fondling her), rough-handling and bloody injuries inflicted by law officers, harassment during incrassation, and starvation strikes that lead to being force-fed though a tube inserted into the resistant prisoner’s nostril (which is depicted in some detail). Portrayed as well are some of the illegal activities Maud and her cohorts engage in, such as breaking windows, bombing buildings and mailboxes, and putting themselves in harm’s way to attract attention to their cause (one character is killed in such an endeavor).

Maud’s journey also acts as a narration to historical events. However, this seems to be where the production flounders, in part because it isn’t easy to connect how the opportunity to vote would improve the main character’s personal plight. Other reasons the movie may miss its mark include Maud’s frequent eloquent remarks that feel too scripted to be natural dialogue, and the plot’s attention to the fictional elements of the story which interferes with the audience’s ability to bond with the real figures that helped shape the outcome of this desperate fight (such as Emily Wilding Davison who is played by Natalie Press).

Faults aside, the film’s lukewarm reception ironically appears to be a repeat of the past. Even though it offers great production values, a big budget look complete with period costumes, and an all-star cast (other notables include Helena Bonham Carter, Romola Garai and Brendan Gleeson), Suffragette has been given only a limited theatrical release and a cautious promotional push. Is this lack-luster enthusiasm an indication of the studio’s confidence, or a reflection of the public’s interest in this important topic? Either way, given the many challenges still faced by women world wide, it’s disappointing.

Directed by Sarah Gavron. Starring Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter. Running time: 106 minutes. Theatrical release October 23, 2015. Updated

Get details on profanity, sex and violence in Suffragette here.

Suffragette Parents Guide

Other films about human rights injustices have received favorable reactions from audiences – such as those depicting the treatment of Jews during World War II or the civil rights fight of African Americans. Do you feel the apparent disinterest in this movie is related to its subject matter, or the faults in the production?

At the end of the film a timeline of women’s suffrage (right to vote) around the world is presented. You can find a more extensive list here. Were you surprised at how long it has taken some countries to grant that privilege to women? Why do you think it has taken so long for this change? What have been the results of giving women this power? Have they been as negative as the early naysayers feared?