A look at Suffragette (M)
MAUD Adams works in a laundry sweatshop in 1912 and is tasked one late afternoon to deliver a parcel of clothes to a west London client.
Disembarking from a double-storey autobus Maud (Carey Mullgan) is forced to lie prostrate on the pavement as women commit an act of terrorism – throwing stones through the windows of West End department stores.
Militant female activists are demanding women be given the right to vote. They create panic on the streets as shouts of ‘votes for women’ ring out around the sounds of glass shattering.
It’s the start of Maud’s radicalisation. Earning far less than her male counterparts in the laundry and without a vote, what can compel the ruling elites to help her and her female co-workers?
Her role model is local pharmacist Edith (Helena Bonham Carter) whose scientific expertise is crucial later in the story when the women craft a bomb.
The men are portrayed in various ways. Maud’s laundry employer (Geoff Bell) is a brute and a sexual predator while her husband (Ben Whishaw) and police special branch Inspector Steed (Brendan Gleeson) are sympathetically drawn: sort of.
Steed, an Irishman, describes Edith to his fellow police as “highly educated and without scruples” as police surveillance is ramped up.
But he’s not particularly admirable in his dealings with Maud. He attempts, in alternate interviews, to coerce and cower the washerwoman into informing on her colleagues by detailing the dates and times of upcoming suffragette rallies.
‘You’re nothing in this world,” Steed tells a defiant Maud. He displays a more human side though when he’s clearly revulsed at the force-feeding employed by gaol officials when some of the women – including Maud – embark on hunger strikes.
Even though Maud and several other characters are fictional, there are two real-life women amidst all this demonstrating and violence. Suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep, in a brief three-minute cameo) and Emily Wilding Davison (Natalie Press) whose final personal sacrifice forms the climax of the movie were actual people.
It’s salutary to remember that although all UK women eventually got the right to vote in 1928, Australian women had voted federally since 1902.
More staggering, however, is the revelation in the end credits that women in Switzerland had to wait until 1971 to gain their suffrage.
Considering the Swiss standard of living and world acclaim the little mid-European nation enjoys that fact was absolutely mind-boggling.