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'Suffragette' Film Review: Blending fact and fiction in the name of social equality

October 30, 2015Ben MK

Remember a few months back, when certain men's rights groups accused director George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road of being a blatant attempt at passing off feminist propaganda in the guise of an action movie?

Well if you happen to sympathize with their point-of-view, then you might want to avoid Suffragette, a film that chronicles the real-life struggles of the British women's suffrage movement of the early 20th century. For everyone else, however, the film is nothing less than a poignant, inspiring and oftentimes heart-wrenching look at a crucial turning point in the crusade for gender equality — a hard-fought battle that has yet to be fully won.

Directed by Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane) from a screenplay by Abi Morgan (Shame), the movie puts a face to the cause by focusing its narrative on 24-year-old Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan, delivering a career-defining performance), who isn't an actual historical figure, but more of a composite character through which we come to understand the great personal risk that the women who took part in the suffrage movement subjected themselves to.

Born in an east London laundry house and having worked there full-time since she was barely a teenager, Maud is no stranger to a life of never-ending hardship where practically her every move has been dictated by men (whether it be her husband, her boss, etc.). But after she finds herself unwittingly caught up in the scuffle of a violent suffrage protest in 1912, she's introduced to a group of women who set her on a very different path.

Those women include Maud's co-worker, Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff), pharmacist Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham-Carter) and Emily Davison (Natalie Press), the latter of whom was an actual person who sacrificed her life for her beliefs, drawing long-overdue attention to the fight for a woman's right to vote. As for the movement's then-leader, Emmeline Parkhurst, she makes a brief but rousing appearance in the film, portrayed by the always-reliable Meryl Streep.

Together they drop homemade bombs into mailboxes, and even blow up the vacant residence of a well-known politician, acts that not only lead to their incarceration; but for Maud, it also drives her husband (Ben Whishaw) to lock her out of their home, separating her from her young son. Meanwhile, a determined inspector named Arthur Steed (Brendan Gleeson) tries hard to break Maud's will and turn her into an informant for the police, a futile endeavor that's only met with further defiance.

Of course, creative liberties have no doubt been taken to maximize the story's dramatic impact; yet it's not difficult to imagine that some of the injustices depicted on-screen did indeed happen in some way, shape or form. That's where Suffragette works best, seamlessly melding together real-life historical events with the filmmakers' artistic vision, resulting in a powerful message that's (sadly) just as relevant today as it was a century ago.

Suffragette releases October 30th, 2015 from Universal Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for some intense violence, thematic elements, brief strong language and partial nudity. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 46 Mins.

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