I have grown up with the right to vote as a given, but of course it was not always so. It is mind boggling to realise that so called enlightened countries like Switzerland only granted women’s suffrage in 1971 for goodness sake. Conversely, it was we Antipodeans that led the way, starting with New Zealand which was the first country to enable adult women to vote, followed by South Australia the next year, and then the Federation of Australia in 1902 (except for Aboriginal women, and men for that matter, but that is a whole different story).
The new British film Suffragette is a timely reminder of what has been achieved, the costs involved in achieving it, and how much more is still to be achieved.
My knowledge of the Suffragette struggle in Britain was, I am ashamed to say, very limited. Of course I knew of Emmeline Pankhurst, and suffragettes chaining themselves to the railings outside government buildings, but had little inkling of how they were viewed and treated by the male lawmakers and law enforcers.
The success, and difference, of this film lies in telling this powerful story through one woman, Maud Watts, a foot soldier in the fight for equality. Maud is a laundress, literally working her fingers to the bone, for significantly lower pay than the men in the factory. Added to this injustice is the oily factory owner (foreman?) who sexually abuses the young girls in the factory, who are powerless to do anything because of their dire economic need.
Maud, played by the ever impressive Carey Mulligan, is a reluctant recruit to the cause but once in she dedicated her all to it – and loses everything in return, except her dignity. As played by Mulligan I was more than willing to go for the very rocky ride with her.
I found the film engrossing for most of its length – informative, gripping, heartbreaking at times, incredibly tense at others. It is not a great film, but it’s a good one. Three and a half stars.