“Suffragette” is a drama that tracks the story of the foot soldiers of the early feminist movement, women who were forced underground to pursue a dangerous game of cat and mouse with an increasingly brutal State. These women were not primarily from the genteel educated classes; they were working women who had seen peaceful protest achieve nothing. Radicalized, and turning to violence as the only route to change, they were willing to lose everything in their fight for equality — their jobs, their homes, their children and their lives. Maud was one such foot soldier. The story of her fight for dignity is as gripping and visceral as any thriller, and it is also heartbreaking and inspirational.
“Suffragette” opens in London in 1912. It could be called a tale of the good, the bad, and the ugly. The good part is the acting. Carey Mulligan is excellent as Maud Watts, a simple wife and mother who soon finds herself on the persevering side of the suffragette movement, to the point of being arrested and even having her husband throw her out. Another strong performance includes that of Helena Bonham Carter as Edith Ellyn. The bad part is that the movie is pretty depressing. It shows the ugliness of the British laws at the time and the ugliness of how the women were treated at home, in public, and at work. A scene involving what happens to Maud’s son Georgie is really a downer. The ugly part is the depths that some of the characters go to, not only for the movement (they bomb a few places), but those against the movement as they both verbally and physically abuse the women. The film does share relevant information about the disparity in men and women’s pay for the same work at the time.
A disturbing scene features suffragette Emily Davison being knocked down by the King’s horse at Epsom Derby. The film is unclear whether she was trying to simply draw attention to herself on behalf of the movement or if she intended to be hit. At any rate, despite the film ending on a positive note and the onscreen mention of what breakthroughs finally resulted, the film contains rear female nudity in a jail scene, and therefore, we are unable to award it our Dove “Family-Approved” Seal.