Review of the film: Suffragette

Suffragette

Grim, terrifying, passionate, but immensely inspirational, that’s how I would describe the film, Suffragette. Carey Mulligan’s portrayal of Maud Watts, a working class woman in the East End of London employed in a laundry where abuse of women is commonplace, was incredibly moving. At the start of the film she shies away from being associated with the movement, as getting involved means to court trouble of the very worst kind. Not just from men but fellow women as well.

But Maud’s sense of injustice becomes such she cannot help herself. A way to help womankind have a better life is staring her in the face if only she can find the courage. She eventually relents when a suffragette friend persuades her to join the movement. As Maud becomes embroiled in the cause, as a wife and mother she pays the highest price imaginable.

The film has many violent moments but the scene where Maud is being force fed in prison is particularly harrowing. Even the hardened police officer in the film, who hated these women with a vengeance, was moved to protest at the growing inhumane way they were being treated. In the end a martyr was needed to educate the public on what the suffragettes were fighting for as the newspapers were being silenced. Emily Wilding-Davison became that martyr when she gave her life for the cause, by leaping out in front of the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby on 4th June1913. She died of her injuries on 8th June 1913.

It is barely believable this was how women were treated just over a hundred years ago. Even if you were wealthy or you married a rich man everything was owned by your husband, including your children. Wealth did not mean freedom.

I spent years researching the suffragette movement for my book, Bird in a Gilded Cage, and there are similarities between this film and the story I have written. The book started out as a contemporary story, but whilst in the process of researching an Edwardian piece of clothing, I found that research led me to look at women in this time period and how they lived their lives. Women were trapped in a world where they were denied even the most basic of rights. One of those rights was the right to vote.

 

My heroine, Beth, is from a privileged background having grown up with every luxury money can buy. But it is freedom Beth is desperately seeking, that and finding a way to help women have a voice. Beth is frustrated beyond reason when she witnesses her brother, James, being allowed privileges she can only dream of while she is effectively imprisoned in her cushioned world.

As in the film Beth meets a suffragette, a young woman called Alice who draws her into the movement. Alice becomes her mentor and falls in love with Beth, but Beth is in love with Finn, a man who is opposed to the suffragette cause. Beth now has more than one fight on her hands in this dramatic portrayal of life during this pivotal time for women. Beth like Maud pays a high price for her freedom, but she never gives up the fight.

Suffragettes had enormous courage and fortitude in their fight for the vote. We must never forget how much we owe them. The freedom women enjoy today is only a result of their immense suffering, determination and brave sacrifice.

‘Inspired by Emmeline Pankhurst to write my novel.’

Emmeline_Pankhurst_I_cropped

My novel Bird in a Gilded Cage, is a passionate story set against the backdrop of the suffragette movement. The heroine, Beth, is fighting to break free from overbearing and manipulative parents, when she meets headstrong Alice Sparks, and finds herself drawn into the fight for the emancipation of women. Alice’s declaration of undying love for Beth throws her into confusion just as the handsome and mysterious Finn McGuiness appears in her life.

But the real fight has only just begun, as Beth becomes embroiled in a powerful struggle for her own survival, where her beliefs and emotions are threatened and the resulting events lead to dramatic consequences.

An impassioned story of love, women’s fight for equality in the early twentieth century and friendships pushed to the very limits of endurance.

Bird in a Gilded Cage began life as a contemporary novel until early on in the planning of the book I had to look into Edwardian women’s fashion for research. This led me to discover not only the way women dressed but how they lived their lives. Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragettes were at the forefront of the fight for equality and after reading their story I was inspired by these brave and courageous women.

It was at this point my novel changed from present day to historical and I began to write Beth’s dramatic story.

Emmeline was born in Manchester in 1858 the eldest of ten children. She grew up in a politically active family as her parents were both abolitionists and supporters of female suffrage.

In 1878 Emmeline returned to Manchester after studying in Paris and met Dr Richard Pankhurst. The two married in 1879 and gave birth to five children over the next decade, Christabel, Sylvia, Adela, Frank (who died in childhood) and Harry. Emmeline managed to combine bringing up her children and household responsibilities with campaigning for her husband in unsuccessful runs for parliament and hosting political meetings at their home. She was truly a remarkable woman.

When Emmeline’s dear husband died in 1898 she was consumed by grief and for several years focused her attentions on her children, however she retained a passion for women’s rights and in 1903 she created a new women-only group called the WSPU, Women’s Social and Political Union whose slogan was ‘Deeds Not Words.’ The group was led by Emmeline and her three daughters.

The WSPU was determined on a new approach as the government had refused to support women’s suffrage. The new tactics would be daring, disobedient and more militant than ever before.

After a protest in Parliament Square in 1910 turned violent and police beat many suffragettes, the WSPU waged guerrilla warfare, orchestrating window-smashing and arson attacks. As the movement became more desperate so it became more violent. In 1913 Emily Wilding Davison was killed when she threw herself under the king’s horse at the Derby racecourse. She was the only suffragette to die for the cause.

In 1914 war was declared in Europe and the government released all suffragettes from prison and they suspended their activities. Emmeline and her daughters threw themselves into the war effort.

In 1918 the government passed an act giving women the vote if they were over the age of 30 and either owned property or rented for at least £5/year or were the wife of someone who did. The suffragettes dream was finally realised when in March 1928 a bill was introduced to give women the vote on the same terms as men. However, Emmeline Pankhurst fell ill and died on the 14th June 1928 just before it became law on the 2nd July 1928.

There is no doubt that Emmeline Pankhurst and the suffragettes raised the profile of women’s right to vote to a national level. Emmeline was a woman with an indomitable spirit and gritty determination and is an inspiration to all women everywhere.

The suffragettes and their bravery against all the odds is still a subject which fascinates people today – including me. Earlier this year the BBC broadcast a three part programme on the suffragette movement and equality for women and Radio Six also aired a feature on the same subject. In September of this year the film Suffragette will be screened in cinemas across the country, starring Meryl Streep as Emmeline Pankhurst and is the first film to be shot in the Houses of Parliament with the permission of MPs.

My novel Bird in a Gilded Cage is available now in paperback and eBook.

Pick up today: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Bird-Gilded-Cage-Suffragette-Story-ebook/