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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Suffragette movie review: then they fight you (#LFF2015)

Suffragette green light

The first feature film ever about the women who fought for their right to vote is glorious. It is angry and passionate and defiant. It is essential.
I’m “biast” (pro): I’m desperate for stories about women; love the cast

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

Votes for women!

Campaigns to include women in the democratic process via voting have been going on for centuries. There are places in the world that we would consider the height of civilization — *cough* Switzerland *cough* 1971 *cough* — that have only just afforded women this basic human dignity within my lifetime. (I’m not terribly old.) For the first time ever, women in Saudi Arabia will be allowed to vote in local elections happening this December. This fight has concerned half the human race and won’t officially end until that first Saudi woman casts her ballot a couple of months from now.

And yet there has never before been a feature film about this issue. There has never been a feature film about all the many women with indefatigable ambition and charismatic personalities who led the fight, the ordinary women who fought the fight, and the inspiring women who died for the fight. There was a 2004 American TV movie, Iron Jawed Angels. That’s it. One TV movie. How many movies — on the big screen and the small one — have there been about the American Revolution, the American Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Atlantic slave trade and the abolition movement? About male politicians and activists and martyrs? There have been more movies about dogs in the military than there have been about women fighting for their right to vote. Until this very moment, there were more theatrical films about the U.S. invasion of Grenada in 1983 than there were about suffragettes (there was one, 1986’s Heartbreak Ridge).

But now there is Suffragette, the first film ever about the British women who fought a long battle for their right to vote. And it is glorious. It is angry and passionate and defiant. It has to be, because this is not just history. The details may have changed, but women are still fighting all over the world for their right to be seen as fully human: to go to school, to get necessary health care, to be paid fairly for our work, to simply be listened to and believed when we talk about the realities of our lives. Suffragette is no staid, respectable costume drama, not in the vigor and grit with which it is presented, not in the sheer entertainment value it provides alongside its history lesson, and certainly not in its absolute relevance for today.

Carey Mulligan’s (Far from the Madding Crowd, Inside Llewyn Davis) Maud Watts — who works in a laundry in 1912 London here — stands up a little straighter in a mirror and finds new pride and purpose in her life as she slowly becomes radicalized into the suffragette movement… and that’s a transformation that girls and women everywhere today will recognize and appreciate. Anne-Marie Duff’s (Molly Moon and the Incredible Book of Hypnotism, Before I Go to Sleep) Violet Miller, the coworker of Maud’s who first introduces her to the suffragette movement, sidelines herself from the ongoing protests for a reason that many women would admit to identifying with, along with the sinking heart that goes along with it, if only it still weren’t taboo to confess to such a thing even now.

Brendan Gleeson’s (Song of the Sea, Edge of Tomorrow) police inspector Arthur Steed, who is surveilling “these damned women” who are being such a nuisance in agitating for their right to vote, warns his colleagues that one of them, Helena Bonham Carter’s (Cinderella, The Lone Ranger) Edith Ellyn, is “educated,” and that “that makes her particularly dangerous”… and the palpable fear of women who know their own minds is as familiar as a nasty tweet or a vile blog comment. Steed tells his officers, after a suffragette protest, “Don’t bother arresting them; let their husbands deal with them”… and the presumption that a woman’s rightful place is under the rule of a man stings because it is one that remains all too prevalent today. (The suffragettes get arrested plenty, though, and the indignities that they are subjected to in prison are terrible.)

The British government here controls the press and quashes news of the civil disobedience and vandalism the suffragettes engage in, such as throwing rocks through shop windows and blowing up mailboxes… and it’s difficult not to see a similar deliberate stifling of women’s acts and deeds in how stories of the suffragettes have been erased from our pop culture and general knowledge. (You probably weren’t aware of how the suffragettes were treated in prison. You won’t be able to forget after this movie.) How is it possible that a woman such as Emmeline Pankhurst (played here, in one brief but powerful scene, by Meryl Streep: Ricki and the Flash, The Giver), whose shift as an activist from asking men nicely for her human rights to demanding them in a violent and unignorable manner, isn’t as well known as Gandhi or Malcolm X or Nelson Mandela?

Could it be because we don’t want women to know that they have the power to change their lives for the better? Could it be because we don’t want women to stand up and speak out?

Women struggling to have their voices heard? It’s still happening today, certainly when it comes to getting our stories told on the big screen, and so it’s radical that the storytellers here are women: director Sarah Gavron and screenwriter Abi Morgan (The Invisible Woman, Shame). While stories of men who make history become mythic to the point of absurdity in the constant retelling– think George Washington and the cherry tree, and Abraham Lincoln and his log cabin — women have to continually reinvent the history of what women have done, have to reinvent the stories of women’s achievements because no one alive now has heard them before, not in any significant way. We can hope that Suffragette may finally change that dismal track record, that now a floodgate has opened and we’ll tell these stories and all the other tales of women so often that they become archetypal representations of themselves just like happens to men. I cannot overstate how totally essential this movie is. Girls and women need the inspiration and the energy Suffragette offers. We need the legend. We have always needed it.

Votes for women!

viewed during the 59th BFI London Film Festival

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Suffragette for its representation of girls and women.

green light 5 stars

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Suffragette (2015)
US/Can release: Oct 23 2015
UK/Ire release: Oct 12 2015

MPAA: rated PG-13 for some intense violence, thematic elements, brief strong language and partial nudity
BBFC: rated 12A (infrequent strong language, moderate violence, a scene of force-feeding)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Shiraz

    This is great to hear! Thanks MaryAnn.

  • Lynda

    Looking forward to this. Another good TV show is “Shoulder to Shoulder,” a six-part BBC series from 1974 that’s about the Pankhurst family and the Suffragette Movement. The excellent Sian Phillips plays Emmeline Pankhurst. All the episodes are available on YouTube. I watched the show back then and am glad I grew up knowing this important piece of history.

  • Bluejay

    Women struggling to have their voices heard? It’s still happening today

    Indeed — including at the Suffragette premiere:


    Really looking forward to seeing this.

  • Beowulf

    My mom was four when women got the right to vote in the U.S.
    Switzerland trumps that. This is a great, momentous subject. Unfortunately, it will make 10 cents in the U.S.A. Women will have use one of the many guns we have here to make their boyfriends, husbands, and brothers see this.

    Off-topic: How was it at the Jets game last week, MA? Wembley looks cool.

  • Mr. E

    Rolling eyes.

    Suffragettes, my ass.

    WE’RE the ones who have to SUFFER through this tripe.

    Why can’t you all go and SUFFER somewhere else?

    And preferably SUFFER a little more quietly.

  • Mr. E

    You want suffering?

    THIS is suffering. What was it YOU did again???


  • Bluejay

    They didn’t want women in the army back then. You probably still don’t.

  • Bluejay

    Clearly etymology is not your strong suit.

  • LaSargenta

    Suffragettes, my ass.

    Bet yer ass is flabby.

  • Mr. E

    MEN have always had to FIGHT for what we want. And MEN have always had to FIGHT for what WOMEN want too. Women won’t do their own fighting.

  • Mr. E

    I understand the words just fine. Is that the best you got?

  • Mr. E

    Bet yours is saggier. I have to WORK for a living.

  • LaSargenta


    Ooooh, burn.

    I doubt it. I’ll bet even if you actually know how to work for a living, you’re the guy on the side ‘observing’ the real work. Otherwise, you’d be busy and not having your balls crawl up your spine.

  • I haven’t the foggiest idea how the Jets game was. I have less than no interest in any of the games called football.

    Women will have use one of the many guns we have here to make their boyfriends, husbands, and brothers see this.

    Or just go see it without them.

  • Beowulf

    Kidding about the Jets.

    But if men don’t see it, that’s kinda preaching to the choir again.

  • Bluejay

    Hey, there are plenty of men in the choir. We’ll see it. And sometimes it’s good to see something that reaffirms what you believe, because it inspires you and gives you the strength to keep fighting.

    And not all feminists know everything there is to know about the suffragette era, so even an already-sympathetic audience will probably learn a lot from the film.

  • As Bluejay said (and as I noted in my review), feminist history has to constantly be retold, because it is not common knowledge. Many young women today will have no idea what it took for women to get the vote.

    And if the men want to get left behind, that’s their problem. The meteor has already hit, and they can evolve, or they can die (figuratively speaking, of course).

  • Danielm80

    Personally, I need only one reason to see the movie: Carey Mulligan.

    Oh, and here’s a little bit of film history:

  • Kane Richards

    Hey Mary Ann, you’ve written a great review. As a 21 year old man, I thought Suffragette wouldn’t really be my cup of tea but I found it to be a very powerful and moving drama. Would you mind having a read of my review here and telling me what you think? https://thewatcherblog1.wordpress.com/2015/10/14/suffragette-review-carey-mulligan-meryl-streep-helena-bonham-carter/ :)

  • Matt Clayton

    Other than Meryl Streep, this movie looks fantastic. Maybe producers will finally see how good Carey Mulligan is and offer her gigs being rejected by Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley.

  • Mulligan is great, and if you aren’t already mad about Anne Marie Duff, you will be after this.

  • Why would you think this wouldn’t be your cup of tea?

    (Sorry, but I don’t have time to critique other people’s writing for free. If you want to hire me as an editor, I’d be happy to have a look.)

  • What’s your issue with Streep?

  • Matt Clayton

    I’ve been less appreciative of Streep since the Academy chose her subpar performance in “The Iron Lady” over Viola Davis. It still stings.

  • That’s hardly Streep’s fault.

  • Bluejay

    Just saw this. Wow. Powerful, harrowing, inspiring. Carey Mulligan and Anne-Marie Duff — no words.

  • anna

    Just wanted to point out that Maud was not a real person but a made-up character. Those in the movie that are real historical people are only Emily Davison, Emmeline Pankhurst, and David Lloyd George. It may also interest you that while Edith Ellyn was not a real person, she was somewhat inspired by Edith Garrud; Bonham Carter modeled her performance after Garrud and requested the character’s name be changed from Caroline to Edith in honor of her. Garrud was known for training suffragettes in jiu jitsu in real life.

  • Anna

    Also Bonham Carter is the great-granddaughter of H.H. Asquith, who served as Prime Minister of the UK in 1908–16, the prime years of the suffrage movement, which he opposed.

  • Loved the movie. It was playing at a theater across town and had left, but came back and I’m very glad I got the chance to see it. Terrific performances all the way around, and the single most unbelievable thing (the horserace incident) actually happened (though the woman was about 20 years older).

  • This is fictionalized, but not much. Most of what is depicted here actually happened.

  • Seb

    Of course a regressive feminist would love this widely historically inaccurate movie to the extreme. Seriously, your feminist bias is ruining your professional career. No one is saying you can’t identify as a feminist (I’m extremely against it, but whatever. Actions matter more than words) but your bias reeks of stupidity, finding problems where none exists. Making up misogyny as you go along. Claiming “racism” and “sexism” and “offense” when it clearly isn’t true… You say that BvS (fyi, a movie that I think is absolute GARBAGE) is “misogynistic” and “fascist”? Are you fucking kidding me? That’s strong coming from a feminist. You know, one of the most authoritarian movements of our time, showing remarkable resemblances to fascist philosophy and thinking. You are a hypocrite. Then you complain that you are sick of “women being abused for the sake of realism” – implying that GoT is guilty of this. My God… Is that really why? Because there is no “trigger warning” at the start of each episode? Ffs, men have a thousand times worse on GoT. Period. I would accept your opinion if it was based on principle (which would be your dislike for violence) but you don’t give a single fuck about that. It’s only about “women” and “feminism”. Going even as far as to say “only TRUMP supporters would like London has Fallen because “dat movie issz racssissht!! Its aantie-immigrant!! huurr durr”. You are actively looking for things to be offended by. It’s just a fucking movie, not a reflection of a certain demographic. This is a joke. No, YOU are a joke.

  • Bluejay

    This is a joke. No, YOU are a joke.

    Ooh, you’re so close. Try guessing who the joke is again. Maybe third time’s the charm.

  • Seb

    You attack the person and not the argument. Weak. If this was an attempt at trying to disprove my points… You massively failed. My criticisms are valid. I am anti-feminist, but that’s simply my opinion (based on overwhelming data and undeniable facts). But that is not the reason why I am criticizing this poor excuse for a “movie critic”. It is simply retarded to bring politics into movies simply for the sake of pushing a personal agenda. Especially when this agenda – being feminist in nature – is destructive, logically unsound and based on nothing but “offended” feelings. Yes, a critic should not be biased (ofc everyone has biases, but this is way overboard). Her political opinion should have no influence on her professional career, especially when the 2 share nothing in common. Yet with her, it does. And that is a massive mistake.

  • Bluejay

    You attack the person and not the argument.

    Says the person who calls her a joke.

    My criticisms are valid.

    Aww, that’s cute that you think so.

    that’s simply my opinion (based on overwhelming data and undeniable facts).

    Ooh, trying to have your cake AND eat it too! Adorable. Might want to wipe the crumbs off your chin.

    this agenda – being feminist in nature – is destructive, logically unsound and based on nothing but “offended” feelings.

    Bizarro am NOT making arguments that make perfect nonsense!

    Look: the moment you say you totally and absolutely reject feminism, you reject any common ground on which we can actually have a proper debate. So all that’s left is snark; and if we must have snark, then I’ll snark. Enjoy spouting your bullcrap on anonymous comment threads, Seb, because your sad misguided opinions will be all you’ll have to cling to as this world leaves you behind.

  • Seb

    Ad hominems are valid when the accusation is true. In this case, her professional career is a joke, that is not attacking her character, it’s an accusation based on her actions. You simply fail to differentiate the two. Also, you have yet to debate a single point I made. Maybe that is because you don’t have anything worthwhile to tell and you know you’ll lose this argument. You can call me names, I can assure you, I have less fucks to give.

    Saying that “I am wrong… That’s cute… Wipe the crumbs off your chin” really fails to prove any sort of meaningful point. But then I shouldn’t be surprised since you’re defending a SJW.

    Let me elaborate, I fully reject 3rd wave feminism. I think feminism has achieved good things, but I am still skeptical – even of its initial intentions and thoughts (1st – 2nd wave) but at least they actually had a valid point and made progress. Current day feminism is nothing more than a cancerous totalitarian – bordering on religious – cult that deems itself morally superior and any criticism is labeled as “sexism” or “misogyny”.

    “your sad misguided opinions will be all you’ll have to cling to as this world leaves you behind.”
    Yet you clearly care enough to reply.

  • Bluejay

    Ad hominems are valid when the accusation is true.

    Great! Then my ad hominem stands.

    You can call me names, I can assure you, I have less fucks to give.

    Yet you clearly care enough to reply. :-)

  • Seb

    No, because you attacked my character, not the argument. When someone says “Cats should be killed”, this person is a lunatic. This is not an ad hom, because said person is clearly deranged, based on his arguments. You did not attack my arguments, you simply attacked the man (me) because you couldn’t refute the argument. You’re just too stupid to tell the difference.

    Saying that I do not care what you call me has absolutely NO bearing on whether I should (or want to) reply or not. Clearly years of Tumblr exposure have damaged your brain.
    I have still yet to see one single refutation. Clearly you are not interested in having a civilized discussion. Clearly you don’t care about debate. You’re only in this for personal satisfaction. Tell me, what exactly have I said that is so wrong? If you know you’re going to win this discussion, why not make your case? Maybe it’s because you have nothing to say.

  • Bluejay

    Maybe it’s because you have nothing to say or show but your contempt.

    Your comments deserve no more than that.

  • It is simply retarded to bring politics into movies simply for the sake of pushing a personal agenda

    It’s never wrong to discuss art from a political perspective, and in this case, the explicit subject matter of *Suffragette* and *BvS* and *GoT* and *London Has Fallen* is literally political.

  • Seb

    Why? Just explain your opinion. Feminists, SJW, BLM, etc… People like this (including you) are supposedly the moral elitist. So why act in such a condescending way? Should you not call for open debate? No, the difference between you and me, is that the way I talk here to you, is exactly the same way I would talk to you face-to-face. But here, in your little safe space of anonymity, you feel powerful and hipster enough to show your true colors. That you do not care about other people’s opinions, you don’t give a fuck about anyone that doesn’t conform to your moral authority and look down upon anyone with conflicting views, because oh my, you have showcased time and time again how moral and polite you are. Face-to-face, you wouldn’t even dare to talk like this, unless you have a SJW army to back you up. This is just beyond pathetic.
    I am asking you for your honest opinions and thoughts on the SUBJECT matter, not me. Is it really so hard to pretend like you want to be respectful towards others? Sure, you don’t need to censor or sugarcoat anything but if you think I am wrong, explain why that is instead of acting like an ignorant child “You deserve my contempt” who the fuck says this?

  • Seb

    It has political themes, sure. But it is wrong to bring your PERSONAL political viewpoint into this. GoT is about the politics of war, etc. It’s not about freaking identity politics, YOU make it so. That’s the difference.
    Just a question, this is an honest one and not sarcastic, you are obviously a feminist and cultural Marxist. Have you ever considered you were wrong about certain topics? Because mainly I see you neglect and ignore opposing evidence. I suppose it’s a good thing you are willing to reply, but wouldn’t the best thing to do be that you are willing to correct your views if need be?

  • it is wrong to bring your PERSONAL political viewpoint into this.

    Guess you’d better find another critic. I will never stop doing this.

    you are obviously a […] cultural Marxist.


    wouldn’t the best thing to do be that you are willing to correct your views if need be?

    Of course it is. And I do. But you have nothing to say that I haven’t heard a million times before. You do not have any original new arguments. Sorry.

  • Seb

    I know you will never stop. You are simply too brainwashed into believing your own delusions that the thought that you might be wrong simply doesn’t cross your mind. It’s your career and site, obviously you do what you want. But is it really that hard to hear people out? It’s one thing to bring your personal political bias into this, it’s another thing entirely to make up lies and fabricate discrimination where none exists. You also seemingly have no trouble – let alone shame – acting sexist towards men and you dismiss that by saying “check your privilege” as if you can’t be sexist or racist. Your Warcraft review proves this rather well.
    Okay, you can pretend as if you now don’t believe in class-based oppression and the mystical white capitalist patriarchy – but you would clearly be lying. If you don’t consider yourself a Marxist, that’s your choice. But you share remarkably similar viewpoints.
    No, people have repeatedly pointed out your misandrist comments and you have repeatedly dismissed this. You only prove my point. You just assume anyone who opposes your moral opinions to be wrong, even when you factually are. You believe in conspiracy theories of which there is no evidence to back it up (the “patriarchy”) and when people call you out on it, mention FACTS that debunk your position, you simply dismiss them. You can say that you are open for debate all you want, but your actions clearly show otherwise.

  • Bluejay

    Your comments deserve no more than contempt because you’re not actually interested in debate. You’ve already made up your mind about us, you’ve already made all your assumptions and projections. Honestly, neither of us is going to change each other’s minds, so your rants are little more than self-righteous masturbation. There’s really nothing left to say to you except Fuck You.

  • Seb

    “you’re not actually interested in debate”
    No, don’t project your feelings onto other people. I have just literally asked for YOUR opinion about the subject. Why would I do this – if not to initiate a normal discussion? The only one not interested in open debate, is you. As you continue finding poor excuses and insult and poor reasons not to do it.
    “Made up your assumptions and projections”. Name one. Seriously though, name one.

    Feminists are supposed to be progressive and “tolerant”. So why the fuck are you SO intolerant of other people’s opinions? Even IF I made up my mind and was unwilling to change (which is false, I look at the facts, and nothing else), does that somehow justify belittling opposing viewpoints? “Fuck you”…. LOL. Why is it bad to not be a feminist? Imagine Christians told you to go fuck yourself because you’re nonreligious. It’s idiotic.

  • LaSargenta

    Aaaaaah. We are supposed to tolerate your intolerance.

  • Seb

    It’s the opposite, you imbecile. YOU are the ones not being tolerant. What have I said or done that is intolerant? Please enlighten me.

  • Bluejay

    Hilarious. Fuck you.

  • He’s gone.

  • Dr. Rocketscience

    That was the racist I just blocked in the other thread. I did unhush him long enough to see him act surprised he got modded. Adorbs.

  • Bluejay

    Apparently he can still comment by editing his previously posted comments. That’s an annoying loophole.

  • And I’ve edited them right back.

    If he finds another way around this, I’ll just delete his comments entirely.

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