I don’t normally post film reviews on my blog. I got a bit obsessed with writing a lot of film reviews when I was part of a youth community group called The Jitty during my secondary and pre-A level years. I enjoyed writing them, attempting to write in an engaging manner to encourage other people around my age to watch my favourite films, and I occasionally wrote film reviews of new films that came out. I am writing this film review for the same reasons, but also to reach beyond my age group and encourage a much wider audience to see Suffragette.
(Note: I am not apologetic for the amount of historicism included in this review. You might argue that this isn’t really a film review but more of a historical review in favour of women’s suffrage. Then again, Suffragette is a historical film which documents what happened in Britain before the First World War, and is supportive of women’s suffrage.)
As soon as I found out that the film was coming out, I knew that I wanted to see it; I had to see it. As a feminist, I am very passionate about equality between men and women and both of my dissertations written at university explore what women endured during both World Wars, as a result of being born a woman. My dissertation on British female poetry of the First World War definitely has more connections with Suffragette, since there was a rising interest in women’s suffrage towards the end of the nineteenth-century and into the early twentieth-century. After all, some historians argue that it was women’s efforts during the First World War that won them partial suffrage. In November 1918, British women aged 30 and above, if they were a member or married to a member of the Local Government Register, were given the vote. This partial suffrage still excluded many women, even though Edwin Samuel Montagu, munitions minister during the First World War, argued in 1916, ‘Where is the man now who would deny to women the civil rights which she has earned by her hard work?’ A lot of women aged under 30 worked incredibly hard during the war, and if women did not do so, then the war would have been elongated.
Suffragette focuses on a small group of working class women in a textiles factory, who were also suffragettes. Set in London in 1912, the film excellently portrays the agonising life of women who earned much less than men did for doing the same labour; quite often women worked many more hours than men, and still earned less money than their male counterparts. The film is suitably set in 1912, since this was when Emeline Pankhurst, founder of the Women’s Social Political Union (WSPU), urged women to start using militant tactics to make themselves heard. The film opens with suffragettes using stones to smash shop windows along a high street, shouting ‘Votes for Women!’ The reason why women started to use violence is because they had been issuing bills to Parliament since 1865 and peacefully protested for the right to vote. Since this hadn’t been working, militant strategies were used in order for them to be start taken seriously by Parliament. One of the suffragettes in the film even states that violence and war are the only languages that men seem to understand.
Suffragette portrays the extent to which suffragettes would fight and make themselves known. Many women were put in prison on numerous occasions because they were protesting for the right to be recognised as equals with men. As soon as they were released from prison, they went back to campaigning, protesting and using militant tactics to make their cause known. Even when prison sentences became longer and strenuous for women, when they went on hunger strikes and as a result were force fed, and who were seen in the eyes of the law as repeating offenders and law breakers, they still continued to fight. Another suffragette in the film argues, if the government want women to be respectable, then make the law respectable.
The extreme extent one woman went to for the suffragette cause to be heard was at the Epson Down Racecourse in Surrey on 8th June 1913. Emily Davison stepped in front of the King’s horse during a race and died four days later. This incident became internationally known, and thousands of suffragettes attended the procession of Davison’s coffin through London. I had forgotten about Davison’s act of stepping out in front of a horse, until the film showed this scene. The film portrayed Davison’s intention to put a banner written with ‘Votes for Women’ onto the King’s horse, at a part of the race course where people were filming the race. The moment when she was knocked over and trampled on was captured on film. The scene was heartbreaking, and even more so when the film concluded with actual footage from the funeral procession which took place on 14th June 1913, and was organised by the WSPU.
Just before the credits rolled onto the screen, information was given about what happened after the funeral. Interestingly, the dates of when women gained the vote in different countries was shown, which was incredible to see. New Zealand was the first country to grant full female suffrage in 1893. From this date up until the present, date after date and country after country showed when women around the world were allowed to vote. I feel especially ignorant that I didn’t know that women in Saudi Arabia are only just being considered to be given the right to vote in 2015.
I was crying at the end of the film, not just because of the death of Davison, but because of the reminder of the years of suffering and protesting suffragettes went through in order for women to be recognised as citizens and for the right to vote. My great-grandmother was a suffragette who chained herself to the town hall in Leicester, another tactic used by women in order to be heard. I am eternally grateful to my great-grandmother and all of the women who worked extremely hard in their campaigns and protests, who sacrificed themselves, not necessarily like Davison but in other ways such as going to prison numerous times and being beaten up by authorities, and were brave enough at a time in Britain when it was a man’s world. If the thousands of women did not defy their gender stereotypes of being silent and submissive, then what would life be like now?