Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 18th October, 2015
The dramatic struggle for female enfranchisement in Britain is so much part of the country’s political history that it is amazing it has not been the subject of a major feature film until now. But Sarah Gavron’s “Suffragette”, which is now out on general release, has been well worth waiting for. Wisely the storyline focuses not so much on the Pankhursts (though Maryl Streep puts in a memorable cameo performance as the indomitable Emmeline; instead, it follows the politicisation and then radicalistion of an ordinary East End laundrywoman (beautifully played by Carey Mulligan) who is inspired to join the fight by a mixture of painful circumstances and the example of others. The scenes in the Bethnal Green laundry are particularly strong and evocative and the film’s whole atmosphere is skilfully created and maintained. It is a sobering thought, not least for modern Liberals, that even Lloyd George and his Ministers were not at first prepared to give way on female suffrage, preferring to believe the poppycock about women being too emotional and irrational to be trusted with the vote. Sobering, too, to think that just a century ago women were indeed second class citizens, with few rights of their own, including over their children.
Great strides have been made since then, but the film is right in its implied suggestion that had Emily Davison not thrown herself in front of the King’s horse on Derby Day 1913 progress would have been a lot longer in coming. That extraordinary self-sacrifice was a shocking crime in some people’s eyes, but it galvanised much of the nation and I am glad that Sarah Gavron ends her film with real-time footage of Emily Davison’s funeral, for which Londoners lined the streets as hundreds of women in white, wearing black sashes, marched slowly behind her flower-bedecked funeral carriage.