Review: Suffragette

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“You want me to respect the law? Then make the law respectable.” These are the words of Violet Miller that plunge Maud Watts – our heroine of the hour – headfirst into the grim world of women’s suffrage in 1912.

The time for peaceful protest is over, and Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette joins the Women’s Social and Political Union as they launch into a campaign of civil unrest. Cue plenty of smashed windows and exploding post boxes amidst ardent cries of “Votes for women!”

The fictional Maud – a laundry worker, obedient wife and doting mother, is at first peeking from the sidelines of a movement she learns would mean giving up her husband, job, and young son for. Carey Mulligan’s performance as the increasingly impassioned Maud is authentic and captivating, letting us into the heart of Maud the mother, the wife, and the worker so that we need no encouragement to stand with Maud the suffragette as she falls deeper into the heart and gut of the revolution.

Brendan Gleeson plays bad cop with ease but little flair, while Meryl Streep’s cameo as WSPU leader Emmeline Pankhurst is commanding if fleeting – she appears briefly to rally the rebels before disappearing with the swish of a curtain, leaving her famed precept “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave” ringing in their ears.

We see Maud and her new sisters, notably gutsy Violet (Anne-Marie Duff) and the brains behind the operation Edith (Helena Bonham Carter) – both worthy of a Supporting Actress nomination – beaten back physically and emotionally. Some scenes, particularly one of force feeding, are hard to watch – but it is so, so important that we do.

A sense of hushed urgency underlies the whole film, resulting in camerawork that is swift and sharp, and a vivid script by Abi Morgan that always says enough but never more.

The most intense sequence of the film is provided by Natalie Press, who fills the frustratingly small part, introduced late and underplayed, of perhaps the most well-known face of the suffragette movement – Emily Wilding Davison. We see little of her until that Derby Day of 1913, and it is truly gut-wrenching to watch the reality dawn on Maud’s face as Emily whispers “Never surrender, never give up the fight,” before ducking the barrier.

The final hazy scenes of Davison’s coffin – her real one – snaking through the crowded streets of London bring with them a surprising lightness that the previous hour and a half do not. Though the ending at first feels premature, it creates the feeling that the fight is not yet over. The reel of dates that follows, listing when women around the world won the vote, supports that. Just as important are the countries that are yet to make the list, reminding us that it is thanks to our Mauds and Ediths and Violets that we were so far ahead so much of the rest of the world.

Striking, poignant and important, Suffragette can line up alongside The King’s Speech and The Iron Lady as one of the greatest British historical dramas of recent years. An absolute must-watch for every woman, and man, young and old, it is a stark and arresting reminder of the battle our great-great-grandmothers gave up their friends, freedom, and lives to fight.

If you’ve seen Suffragette, tweet us your thoughts at @LibertyBelleMag.


Words by Keri Trigg

Picture from the film, via Huffington Post

Jess is your Deputy Editor


  1. Romola Garai

    October 9, 2016 at 5:10 pm

    Gavron’s conventional approach to the material compares unfavorably to the newsreels and stills of the actual suffragettes that close out the film. The harsh reality comes through in that footage in a way that the film as a whole only approaches in bits and pieces.

  2. Carey Mulligan

    April 15, 2017 at 10:56 am

    Despite the somewhat melodramatic tone, Carey and the other actresses kept me glued to the screen. It also brings up issues relevant to today’s social movements, such as, is violence ever acceptable in pursuit of social justice? The combination of real and fictitious characters worked for me, and the production values were good.

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