Just Been Watching…(54)

Suffragette (2015)

***These are historical events, so spoilers do not apply***

The most famous political movement in Britain campaigning for voting rights for women began in 1903, formed by Emmaline Pankhurst, and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia. Beginning as a pressure group organising protests and demonstrations, it went on to advocate violent means to get attention, including smashing windows, blowing up post boxes with gunpowder, and even attacking the home of a minister, using a large home-made explosive device. In one famous incident, caught on film cameras, Emily Davison walked in front of the King’s horse on Derby Day, in 1913. She died from her injuries four days later, and became a famous martyr for the cause.

This recent film was appropriately directed by a woman, Sarah Gavron, and features many excellent roles for women, including all the leads. Even if you know nothing about these historical events, the cast alone makes this worth watching. Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham-Carter, Anne-Marie Duff, Romola Garai, and many others all turn in convincing performances as fictional characters caught up in the rurbulent events of those times. Meryl Streep makes a brief appearance as Emmaline Pankhurst, and Natalie Press plays the unfortunate Emily Davison. Male roles are also well served, with Ben Wishaw as the conflicted husband of Mulligan’s character, and Brendan Gleeson reliable as the Special Branch policeman tasked with arresting the members of the group.

From the start, the action focuses on working-class women toiling at hard labour in a laundry, in the poorest area of London. They do all the hard work, as the men make deliveries, and act as overseers. The women (including many young girls) work in dangerous and uncomfortable conditions, for a very small wage, much less than the pay received by the men who work there. They are expected to tolerate the sexual advances of the odious foreman, and at home, their life is little more than servitude to their husbands, as they have no rights whatsoever.

One day, Maud (Mulligan) is sent to deliver a package in the centre of London. As she makes her way there, she is caught up in a Suffragette protest, with members smashing shop windows in one of the exclusive shopping streets of the city. Later, the wife of a sympathetic M. P. comes to the laundry, asking women to attend Parliament, to make statements about why they should have the vote. Maud reluctantly delivers her statement to Lloyd George, and when the women return to hear the result of the vote, a disturbance follows, and Maud is arrested. During the protest, the women are treated cruelly by the police, with many badly beaten, and dragged around. Maud is imprisoned along with others, and whilst in prison, she meets Emily Davison.

This incident, and talking to the other women involved, inspires the previously timid Maud to join the group. Along with a local Chemist,(Bonham-Carter) Emily Davison, and others, she becomes part of the militant group using explosives around the city. Another spell in prison results, showing how the hunger strikers were force-fed and restrained, leaving Maud becoming more determined to keep up the struggle. She loses her job, and returns home to find that her husband (Wishaw) has banished her from the house, and will no longer even allow her to see her young son, George. Despite not being the boy’s biological father, her marriage to him has given him total control over her life, and of that of her son. The desolate Maud is left with only the cause, and is tasked to accompany Emily Davison to the Derby, in an attempt to confront the King at the famous horse race.

This film is very good on so many levels. The conditions of the working classes at the time are accurate, and the unusual association of the poor women with their upper-class compatriots is well-handled too. Costume and sets are convincing, and some scenes are actually filmed inside The Houses of Parliament. Every one of the cast delivers a fine performance, with Mulligan on form as Maud, and Gleeson showing his displeasure at the treatment of the women with some nuance too. Even the scene at The Derby, an event familiar to most people in Britain, feels strangely chilling in colour, with the gaiety of the crowds contrasting with the sombre and shocking suicide of Emily Davison.

Here’s the trailer. I recommend this film as something different, in historical drama.

48 thoughts on “Just Been Watching…(54)

    1. It is the centenary of (some) women getting the vote here in 1918, Jennie. There has been a lot of celebration about that recently, including the TV showing of this film. It has the feel of a dramatised documentary at times, but is no less enjoyable for that.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I completely understand the gist of the movie. Sometimes I don’t understand myself. While I like the history of the movie, this would not interest me from a feminist point of view, because that’s not me to make a voice or a fuss at all. Ladylike, you know. Yet, when it comes to children or reading I would step out of that role in a heartbeat. Best to you, Pete.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I think that slight ‘documentary’ feel might be what you are getting at, Abbi. That might be why I liked it of course. I think it would undoubtedly have worked better as a TV mini-series, with more time to establish the background, and develop more characteriastion. I would also have liked to have heard more from those opposed to the women, and their reasons for doing that.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Like

  1. Your movie review left me fascinated. After watching the trailer I put Suffragette on my list of movies to see when available. Thank you, Pete, for the detailed description of the movie. Your writing skills are impressive.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I saw a review for this one over on Vinnieh’s blog last week, and it definitely has my interest. Probably will be a while before I see it. (My to watch list is just way too big😂😂). Glad you enjoyed the films as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. One to watch, sooner rather than later, I’m also intrigued about Spiral.
    I heard a discussion recently on Radio 4 that considered the possibility that Emily Davison was trying to pin a banner to the horse and her death was in fact an accident, I’ll be interested to see what take the film has on this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The original plan was to try to pin banners on the King. But the women were not allowed into the special enclosure, as they had not bought the expensive ticket required to get into that section. Emily would have seen how fast the horses were moving, and it is obvious (to me) from the 1913 footage that she must have realised the potential danger of walking out in front of it, and knew that there was no chance of attaching anything to such a fast-moving animal. Here’s that 1913 clip.
      https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/jun/01/suffragette-emily-davison-knocked-down-kings-horse-video

      ‘Spiral’ is called ‘Engrenages’ in French, meaning gears, and the meshing of same. It is a cop drama about plain clothes cops in Paris who bend the rules, and often get disappointed too. The series also features the French system of prosecuting magistrates, shady defence lawyers, and the home life and love life of each character too. It’s great stuff, and in another league to ‘The Sweeney’ though it is often mistakenly compared to that British drama.
      However, it is a serial, not a series. Certain themes and events run through all six series so far, as far back as episode one, series one. So it really has to be watched from the very beginning, to get the best from it. As you can tell, I am a huge fan! I even watch the repeats…

      Cheers mate, Pete.

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        1. I know I often say it, Eddy. But this one is really worth your time and effort.
          The stories are intertwined, but the top-notch cast makes it all feel so real. Little flash, and some standout performances. (Judge Roban, for one, and the deliciously attractive Audrey Fleurot as Josephine Karlsson, for another. Look her up, she makes ‘Ginger’ sexy.)
          Cheers, Pete.

          Liked by 2 people

  4. “Emily Davison threw herself under the King’s horse on Derby Day, in 1913. She was killed instantly…”

    For some reason, I immediately thought of “El Dorado,” in which Mississippi, played by James Caan, dives under a bunch of horses running through town. (There is an obvious “cut” in this action sequence. Mississippi is replaced by what looks like a dummy.)

    I’ve read that horses do not like to step on squishy things, which presumably would include a prostrate cowboy. And I read at Quora: “If you are on foot in the middle of a frightened herd of horses, you will probably get knocked down, but every single horse will do its best not to step on you.”

    So I’m curious about the incident with the king’s horse in “Suffragette.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She stood in front of the horse as it rounded a fast bend on the course. It couldn’t avoid her. My description of ‘throwing herself’ under the horse was strictly-speaking, inaccurate, but is often used in relation to that incident. However, I will change that to something better. You can see the 1913 footage here.
      https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/jun/01/suffragette-emily-davison-knocked-down-kings-horse-video
      The article states that she died four days later. I had always believed that she died instantly, so I will amend my text to reflect that too.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Good roles for so many women in one film are rare, Cindy. Not one of ‘the greats’, but worth watching.
      (It was on TV here last week, which is why we both watched and reviewed it, I suspect.)
      Best wishes, Pete. x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I loved Spiral but felt it lost its way a little about two-thirds of the way through – it could have done with fewer episodes, I think. Didn’t stop me enjoying it, though. I was admittedly disappointed that Laure ran off into the darkness. I wish I’d seen the first series.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I watched every one, from episode 1, to last Saturday’s finale. It will be on again next year, as BBC 4 are now co-funding it. Unlike you, I have never lost the desire to see more of the ‘gang’, and was delighted when Herville returned. x

          Like

        2. I was referring to Episode 1, Series One, Sarah.
          Herville was the original leader of the CID team. In this last series, he was the greybeard boss in charge of the police station at Clery sous Bois. (A fictional district.)
          Best wishes, Pete. x

          Liked by 1 person

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