Suffragette (2015)

 

 

 

 

Director:     Sarah Gavron.

Starring:     Anne-Marie Duff (Violet Miller), Grace Stottor (Maggie Miller), Geoff Bell (Norman Taylor), Carey Mulligan (Maud Watts), Amanda Lawrence (Miss Withers), Shelley Longworth (Miss Samson), Adam Michael Dodd (George Watts), Ben Whishaw (Sonny Watts), Sarah Finigan (Mrs Garston), Drew Edwards (Male Laundry Worker), Lorraine Stanley (Mrs Coleman), Romola Garai (Alice Haughton), Adam Nagaitism (Mr Cummins), Helena Bonham Carter (Edith Ellyn), Finbar Lynch (Hugh Ellyn), Samuel West (Benedict Haughton), Nick Hendrix (Government Minister), Clive Wood (Superintendent James Burrill), Brendan Gleeson (Inspector Arthur Steed), Morgan Watkins (Detective Malcolm Walsop), Ross Green (House of Commons Clerk), Adrian Schiller (David Lloyd George), Col Needham (Committee Member), Jamie Ballard (Journalist), Joyce Henderson (Female Prison Guard), Raewyn Lippert (Mrs Lewis), Natalie Press (Emily Wilding Davison), Joanna Neary (Woman Prisoner), Annabelle Dowler (Elegant Suffragette), Meryl Streep (Emmeline Pankhurst), Catherine Tomelty (Elegant Woman).

a laundry worker gradually devotes herself to working with the women's right to vote movement in Great Britain; work of Emily Pankhurst & sacrifice of Emily Wilding Davison

 

 

Spoiler Warning:

London, 1912.  Women are working in a laundry factory.  A man comments:  "Women do not have the calmness of temperament or the balance of mind to exercise judgment in political affairs."  A second man says:  "If we allow women to vote, it will mean the loss of social structure.  Women are well represented by their fathers, brothers, husbands."  Man 3 says:  "Once the vote was given, it would be impossible to stop at this.  Women would then demand the right to becoming MPs, cabinet ministers, judges." 

"For decades women had peacefully campaigned for equality and the right to vote.  Their arguments were ignored.  In response, Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the Suffragette Movement, called for a national of campaign of civil disobedience.  This is the story of one group of working women who joined the fight." 

The boss, named Taylor, gives a package to Maud Watts, and says the package has to be there by 6 o'clock.  Maud says that delivery should have picked up the package.  After work Maud takes the Oxford Street bus to go up to a street with fancy shops.  She gets off the bus and starts walking up the street.  She stops to do some window shopping.  All of a sudden a woman grabs a rock from a baby carriage, and she shouts:  "Votes for women!"  The woman throws the rock through the window right in front of Maud.  Maud is frightened by the noise and the broken glass and wants to get away from there.  Other women also start breaking the shop windows with their rocks.  They shout:  "Victory will be ours!  Votes for women!" 

In trying to get away, Maud trips and her package gets ripped up.  She recovers the contents of the package and then hops on a bus to make her get away. She watches as more and more policemen try to contain the damage being doing by the suffragettes. 

Maud returns home at night.  She lives with her husband and her son.  Her husband says that she's home late.  Maud explains that Taylor send her up to the West End and she got caught in a demonstration by "those" women.  Hubby says he will deliver the package for her in the morning.  Maud informs him that she has to get some laundry done before she can come to bed. 

In the morning, Maud gets her boy ready for school.  She drops him off at school.  She sees the newspaper headlines:  "Wanton Damage by Suffragettes!  Mrs. Pankhurst Goes into Hiding."

At the laundry factory, Violet Miller, who threw rocks through the shop windows, comes in late and Taylor balls her out for it, saying that this is the second time she's late.  Maud comes to the rescue by telling Taylor:  "Drive belt's loose again."  Violet tells Maud ta (thank you).  Then she says to Maud:  "We meet Mondays and Thursdays, if you're interested.  The Ellyns' Pharmacy."   A little later, Violet introduces Maud to her eldest daughter, Maggie Miller. 

Mrs. Haughton, the wife of a MP and a suffragette, harangues the laundry workers as they get out of work.  She shouts:  "It is men who have all legal rights over our children. It is men who control our economic existence.  And the Prime Minister, Mr. Asquith, has agreed to a hearing of testimonies of working women up and down the country.  We have an opportunity to demonstrate that as women are equal to men in their labors, so they should be equal to men in their right to vote."  Violet asks Maud if she would testify about her experiences in the laundry?  Maud says that Taylor is a good employer.  Violet replies:  "To you he is. . . . It's as tough for us women as it's ever been.  We've gotta do whatever we can, however we can."  Maud criticizes the tactic of smashing shop windows and says it's not respectable.  Violet fires back:  "You want me to respect the law?  Then make the law respectable."

Maud takes her boy to Edith Ellyn for a check-up.  Georgie is doing fine.  Maud asks Edith if she thinks these testimonies of working women will really make a difference?  Edith replies:  "Maybe, but as Mrs. Pankhurst says:  'It's deeds not words that will get us the vote.' "

The police have Ellyns' Pharmacy under surveillance.  Maud and Georgie get their pictures taken as they come out of the pharmacy.  Superintendent Burrill arrives to see the developed photos taken by Inspector Arthur Steed.  Among the trouble-makers are:  Mrs. Edith Ellyn, Chief Commandant who has been arrested nines times; Edith's husband, Mr. Hugh Ellyn, pharmacist, incarcerated twice for abetting his wife's activities; Mrs. Violet Miller an old hand that moves around a lot; then there's Maud Watts, but he's not seen her before. 

Maud goes up to see Taylor and discovers him trying to have sex with the 12-year old daughter of Mrs. Violet Miller.  Maud is shocked and leaves the area, but the door slaloms behind her, scaring Taylor, who now sends Maggie Miller back to work.  Maud walks fast back to her workplace, breathing very heavily.  The randy Mr. Taylor comes to talk to her.  He says:  "I don't want a slip-up like that to happen again, do you hear?  She reminds me of you at that age. Ha."

Mr. Taylor shouts down to Violet that he heard she was going to give testimony before Parliament and MP David Lloyd George.  He then taunts her.  Maud speaks up now, telling Violet that she will go to Parliament with her. Maud's husband hears this as he too works in the laundry.  He is not pleased with her speaking out like she did, and tells her so. 

Maud waits for Violet who is late.  Violet shows up, but. undoubtedly her drunken, abusive husband, really beat her up.  Her face is a mess.  She will not be able to present her testimony.  Mrs. Haughton and Violet now gang up on Maud to give Violet's testimony, which is already all written out.  Maud doesn't want to do this, but they virtually force Maud to do it.  David Lloyd George, however, doesn't want her to read some other woman's testimony.  He wants Maud to give her own testimony.  He helps out a lot by asking her questions.  She gives her sad story.  It appears possible that Maud's father was actually Mr. Taylor.  That's why she came up fast in the ranks of the women workers.  Lloyd George asks what would the vote mean to Mrs. Watts?  She says:  "I never thought we'd get the vote, so I've never thought about what it would mean."  The men are amused by her answer.  Lloyd George asks her then why is she here?   Mrs. Watts hesitates, and then says:  "The thought that we might . . . That this life . . .  That there's another way of living this life."

Maud goes home to her unsympathetic husband.  He asks her:  "You a suffragette now, one of those Panks?"  She replies:  "No."

Violet tells Maud that Edith has invited her to tea.  Maud goes to see Edith.  Edith tells her:  "I heard you spoke well."

Maud and Violet go together to listen to Lloyd George speak about the results of his committee on women's right to vote.  Lloyd George comes out and says that the prime minister reviewed all the women's testimonies.  In the committee it was carried that there was not the evidence to support any change to the suffrage bill. There will be no votes for women.  The women are really angry.  Edith starts shouting that it's a sham.  Others shout that Lloyd George is a liar.  They bang on his car as it leaves the area.  The police get out of hand and start punching women in the mid-section.  Maud gets doubled-over with a punch.  Edith gets hit in the head with a baton.  Edith, Violet, Maud, Alice Haughton and others are arrested.  Only the wealthy Alice gets bailed out of jail. 

Inspector Arthur Steed comes to speak with Maud.  Maud says that she's not a suffragette.  Steed says he's glad about that.  He says he thinks mentally the women are as stable as the men, but he wants to give her some advice.  Serve your time, which will be no longer than a week and then go back home to her husband.  Maud says:  "They lied to us."  Steed explains:  "They didn't lie.  They promised nothing, they gave nothing."

The women are placed in jail.  In prison, Violet introduces Maud to Emily Wilding Davison, whose done more time than any of the women.  Emily is on a hunger strike already.

The suffragettes are let out of prison.  They are met by another suffragette, who tells Violet, that the escalation of violence from the police will be met with force. Maud just wants to go home and see her son. 

Sonny Watts gives his wife a real dressing down when she comes back home.  She says:  "It won't happen again."  He tells her:  "You won't ever shame me like that again."

Violet gets fired by Taylor.  As she leaves, she shouts:  "Votes for women!"  Taylor excuses Maud.  He says he found someone else, to make up Maud's hours.  He means poor Maggie Miller.  This worries Maud. 

Violet tells Maud that Mrs. Pankhurst will talk to them on Friday.  Maud says she can't, and Violet also says she cannot. 

Maud tells her husband that she will be working late tonight.  At night she goes to hear Mrs. Pankhurst speak.  She meets up with Emily and Violet. 

Still in hiding, Mrs. Pankhurst will briefly speak from a second story balcony to the large crowd out on the street below.  Mrs. Pankhurst says:  "My friends, in spite of His Majesty's government, I am here tonight.  I know the sacrifice you have made to be here.  Many of you, I know, are estranged from the lives you once had, yet I feel your spirit tonight.  For 50 years we have labored peacefully to secure the vote for women.  We have been ridiculed, battered and ignored.  Now we have realized that deeds and sacrifice must be the order of the day.  We are fighting for a time in which every little girl born into the world will have an equal chance with her brothers. Never underestimate the power we women have to define our own destinies.  We do not want to be law breakers.  We want to be law makers.  Be militant, each of you in your own way. . . ."

When the police arrive, the women use a body double to pretend to be Mrs. Pankhurst.  While the police chase down the double, the real Mrs. Pankhurst gets away.  Mrs. Pankhurst meets Maude.  She tells her:  "Never surrender.  Never give up the fight."  The leader now gets away.

When Maud gets home, Sonny locks her out of the house.  Maud picks up a few things and walks away from the house.  The suffragettes find a place for her to stay.  The union will pay.

The police release the photos of the suffragette leaders to the newspapers.  Maud was one of them.  Maud goes back to the laundry.  Everyone is shocked to see her.  She starts ironing shirts.  Taylor comes over to her.  He says he wants Maud out of here.  He then tells her she does this to him after all of what he did for Maud?  Maud says: "And how I've paid for it."  She now picks up the flat iron and smashes it down on Taylor's left hand.  Taylor screams out in agony. 

Maud is questioned by the police.  Inspector offers her freedom in return for Maud becoming a snitch on the suffragette movement.  He says that now one will listen to a woman like Maud.  And the movement is just using Maud as so much cannon fodder.  He paints a black picture, indeed, and then says that he's offering her a lifeline and she should take it.  Maud doesn't say anything else to the inspector. 

Maud attends a suffragette meeting.  Edith is going to blow up different parts of the communications system of London. Each woman gets a list of where to set off the explosions. 

Maud picks Georgie up from school.  She counters the lies her husband has been telling George.  Maud then lets George go home to his dad.  Maud wants to work out a system where she can see her son, but Sonny won't budge. 

Maud writes a letter to Inspector Steed rejecting all his self-serving arguments against being in the suffragette movement.  She is determined to be a good suffragette.

Edith teaches the women some basic self-defense moves.  Then the women are let loose on the city to blow up communication networks and cut telegraph wires.  The women hit targets all over London.  Miss Withers was seen in the vicinity of one of the targets.  The next day the police arrest Miss Withers at Ellyns' Pharmacy.

Edith now picks out another target.  They are going to bomb Lloyd George's summer house.  Violet says this is going too far for her and she drops out of the group for now.  Maud tries to change her mind, but Violet reveals that she is pregnant once again. 

Maud goes to Sonny's place and is hit by a devastating piece of news.  Sonny says he can't take care of George, so he is letting a better-off couple adopt George.  Maud pleads and pleads, but there is nothing Maud can do to stop this.  She has to say goodbye to George.

Edith builds a bomb to blow up the summer house.  Edith, Emily and Maud will explode the bomb.  Edith's husband drives them to the location.  It's a big explosion and the women all get away.  But now the three women are arrested for the crime.  Mrs. Pankhurst now claims that she is the one who set off the bomb. 

Inspector Steed has no evidence against the three bomb suspects.   Maud really stands up to Steed this time.  She's not taking any more of his conservative drivel.  She tells Steed:  "We will win." 

The suffragettes decide to go on a hunger strike.  Maud goes on the hunger strike, but then they start forced feeding her.  The doctor sticks tubes down her nose and esophagus and pours a liquid into the tubes.  Maud fights like a demon. 

Inspector Steed complains that the treatment of the suffragettes grows increasingly barbaric.  Burrill asks Steed then what is the alternative?  Steed warns Burrill that if one of the women dies, they will have created a martyr that will increase the strength of the suffragette cause. 

The suffragette women are released from prison.  Now Maud will be sleeping in a church.  Violet visits her in the church. She brings some food for Maud.  Maud inquires about Maggie down at the laundry.  It doesn't sound good for Maggie. 

Mrs. Pankhurst has been imprisoned and the women don't think she will last through the stint she received.  No one seems to have any solutions to the problem.  But then Maud says they must take the issue to the King himself.  Emily reads the newspapers and tells Maud that the Derby will be on a Wednesday, and the King is to attend.  The women figure they will put their colors on  the King's horse and people will notice the colors and get the suffragette cause in the newspapers.  Emily and Maude will get the job down. 

Esther is planning to help the two young women, but now her husband locks her up.  He tells her that her heart can't take another project done in the name of women's suffrage. 

Steed finds out that Maud is living at the church.  He goes to find her.  All he finds is the newspaper with the derby article prominently displayed on her bed.  He figures out that the women are going to do something at the derby.  He quickly gets in his car and races to the derby. 

There's a glitch in the suffragette plan.  The women can't get into the parade ring to put the suffragette's colors on the King's horse.  They are turned away.  So Emily and Maud go watch the race from the inner ring of grass.  They get up close to the fence around the inner ring.  Emily is in the lead to the fence with Maud lagging behind.  Steed searches for the two women.  The horse race begins.  Emily turns around and tells Maud:  "Never surrender.  Never give up the fight."  She rushes out on the racetrack and dodges a couple of horses.  He target is the King's horse who is in the third to the last horse in the race.  As the King's horse approaches her, she jumps in front of the horse trying to put the suffragette colors on it.  Emily is hit by the horse and goes flying away until she hits the ground.  She is motionless.  The jockey flies off and is motionless.  The horse goes down, but then gets up.

And now the suffragette cause has it's martyr.  The people mob onto the racetrack.  Maud is dumb-struck by the tragedy.

Now Maud hurries to the laundry.  She grabs Maggie Miller and walks her out of the laundry and down to Mrs. Haughton's house.  She tells the wealthy lady how good of a worker Maggie is and asks Mrs. Haughton to hire her.  Mrs. Haughton agrees to hire her.  Now Maud walks away. 

Maud goes to the church to be alone.  The next day Edith comes to see her.  She shows Maud how the accident has gotten the suffragettes more publicity than ever before.  They say thousands will line the streets to say goodbye to Emily.  Now Maud says:  "We go on, Edith.  You taught me that." 

"And reason said to her, 'Silence.  What do you hear?'  And she said, I hear the sound of feet.  A thousand times, ten thousands and thousands of thousands, and they beat this way.  They are the feet of those that shall follow you. Lead on."

Maud and her group watch the funeral procession. 

"Emily Wiling Davison's death was reported across the world.  It drew global attention to the fight for women's rights.  It was a fight that led to the imprisonment of more than a thousand British women.  In 1918 the vote was given to certain women aged over 30.  In 1925 the law recognized a mother's rights over her children.  In 1928 women achieved the same voting rights as men."


 

 

A terrific film about the fight for women's suffrage in Great Britain.  Carey Mulligan (as Maud Watts) was wonderful in her role as an ordinary woman who gradually becomes a key player in the struggle for women's suffrage.  Especially exciting to me was the ending, which I had no knowledge of before watching the film.  Another hero to add to the many heroes throughout history. 

Spoiler Warning:

Some said that Davison committed suicide, but the recent scholarship points out that the only thing that Davison was going to do was put the suffragette colors on the horse.  Emily was thinking just about getting the colors on the horse, and not thinking about how huge thoroughbred horses can be and how often horses and riders are killed on the race tracks.  The jockey who mowed down Emily for the rest of his life was haunted by the remembrance of Emily's face as the horse knocked her into the air.  The poor jockey took his own life many years later.  The scholars are sure that Emily did not kill herself because she left no suicide note, had bought a return ticket for her return journey that fateful day and was going on a vacation with her sister after the derby was over.  The horse got up and finished the race without the jockey on his back. 

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

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