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.