Exploding buildings and passions define the fight for women's right to vote in Britain in the early 20th century. The new movie Suffragette tells that story in a thrilling, action-packed all-women production, starring Carey Mulligan as Maude Watts, a laundry worker, mother and wife. Radicalized by the rhetoric of activists including pharmacist Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter), fellow worker Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff), under the leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep), Maude Watts is compelled to violence in the streets, yes, but just watch her up close wielding a hot iron. While none of the actors showed up for a grand lunch at Locanda Verde in the movie's honor, the director Sarah Gavron, producer Alison Owen, scriptwriter Abi Morgan, and Pankhurst's great granddaughter Helen Pankhurst spoke on a panel moderated by Marie Brenner, about the filmmaking and why this film is relevant now.
The image of a suffragette to most is Mrs. Banks in Disney's Mary Poppins, wearing a smile and banner around her ample bosom. The filmmakers wanted to establish what this fight was for the working class, as some women of means and position did have the right to vote in Britain in 1912. In the course of the film, Maude is imprisoned and exiled from her home. Brendan Gleeson as Inspector Steed, the most sympathetic of the men in the film, points out how useless her sacrifice of hearth and child is. She may even lose her life, he cautions. Voiceless, she has no control over the will of men, even her equally hapless husband (Ben Whishaw). Having endured the unwanted attentions of her boss at work as a child, she watches as he now commands another little girl in his office. She's had it!
The filmmakers spoke in front of a large group of writers and filmmakers that included Lynn Sher, now writing a play about Susan B. Anthony and the American suffragette movement. Maybe the men feared loss of power, the end to war, but the director affirmed, some of the most earnest feminists are men. The fight continues: a crawl at the end of the film shows that the right to vote for women is pending in Saudi Arabia. The film is most important now because the hard won right to vote should remind everyone to make his or her voice matter.
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