Suffragette is by no means an easy watch – not only are the events played out on screen sometimes unsettling, even harrowing, but they’re depicted in a drab palette of browns and greys that are often as gruelling on the eye. When they come, then, the signature purple, white and green colours of the WSPU are a visual reprieve, neatly paralleling the lifeline that the suffrage movement throws the film’s protagonist Maud Watts.
And although Maud is a fictional woman, her journey is one steeped firmly in historical fact. It’s something that Peter Barratt reminds us of at the start of the evening when remarking on the striking similarities between Maud’s life and that of his great-grandmother, the prominent Leicester suffragist Alice Hawkins. Like Maud, Alice was a working-class mother labouring in a factory; like Maud, Alice saw the injustice being meted out to her fellow women and decided to do something about it, even if that something was seen to fall on the wrong side of the law.
Carey Mulligan plays Maud with skill and nuance; a performance matched, moreover, by stellar turns by the likes of Anne-Marie Duff as Maud’s browbeaten but still spirited colleague Violet Miller and Helena Bonham Carter who, as Edith Ellyn, provides one of the film’s most poignant moments of reflection on many women’s fate in the early 20th century. As Edith resignedly remarks to Maud at the mid-point of the film, and despite her evident intellectual and educational prowess, she could never have become a doctor because her father “didn’t approve” of such a venture.
Instead, Edith puts her chemistry know-how to work making bombs for the cause – a radical and controversial move, for sure, but not an entirely unwarranted one. Or, at least, that’s the viewpoint that Abi Morgan’s terse script leads you towards as it unflinchingly portrays the desperation, even anger of Maud and her suffragette sisters.
And while the film almost strays into the relentlessly grim in places, it’s worth remembering the words with which Peter Barratt concludes his pre-show talk on great-grandma Alice. Barratt recounts that his pioneering forebear once told his mother, “You must use your vote; we suffered for it.” Suffragette, then, if nothing else, shows us how very true that was – and why, even if it is by no means an easy watch, it’s still a vital one.
review by Amy Bell, Leicestershire Fawcett Group
Find out more about the Leicestershire Fawcett Group.
Like this? Take a look at another review featuring photos and anecdotes from the talk.
Peter Barratt maintains a fascinating website all about the life of Alice Hawkins.
Local poet Jess Green performed her piece ‘9am White Van Whistle’ before a screening of Suffragette. Find out more about what inspires her to write feminist poetry.