As the final credits roll for Suffragette, the years that women achieved equal voting rights in different countries is listed.
Hard to believe, but women were disenfranchised in Switzerland until as recently as the 1970s. And the vote was only granted to French and Italian women in the 1940s. The wait in Saudi Arabia goes on.
This powerful new movie tells the story of the British suffrage movement from the critical point in 1912, when peaceful efforts for voting equality were rejected by David Lloyd George’s government. From that moment, the militant members of the movement – led by Emmeline Pankhurst – are impelled to use anarchic measures to make their voices heard.
The film is directed by Sarah Gavron almost as a dramatised documentary, mainly through the fictional character of Maud Watts, an impoverished, abused laundry worker in London’s East End. In a bravura performance by the ever-brilliant Carey Mulligan – Oscar nomination on the way? – Maud’s life disintegrates as she allies herself to other suffrage women.
The tragic insoluble dilemma of her desire to improve womens’ lives whilst preserving the love and security of her family is hard to watch, but easy to understand.
Strong supporting performances, from Helena Bonham Carter as a posh chemist, Anne Marie Duff as Violet – a fellow laundry worker – and Natalie Press as the fated Emily Davison, underline the swelling tide of the movement.
A two minute appearance from Meryl Streep as the hunted figurehead Mrs Pankhurst doesn’t even qualify as a cameo performance, I’m afraid.
Ben Whishaw – unrecognisable from his imminent role as Bond’s gadget guru Q – plays Maud’s baffled and ultimately weak husband Sonny. Brendan Gleeson, as mesmerising as always, is the sinister policeman Steed, compelled to uphold the patently discriminatory laws of the day.
Some of the scenes didn’t transport me fully to the early 20th century, but the story – rooted in frankly appalling historical truth – and the acting carry the movie persuasively to the awards season.