3 out of 4
Meet Maud Watts.
She’s an attractive, 24-year-old who has worked in an industrial laundry since she was 7. Her husband is more of a coward than her pillar, her boss is sadistic and treacherous, and her only respite from her days of endless irons and linens are nights with her young son.
Watts’ life – and that of all women in London in 1912 – seems destined for subservience. For centuries, British women lived in a man’s world, where men call all the shots and women do as they’re told.
But in “Suffragette,” the times are changing, and Watts is the driving force behind what women believe is the firs step to equality: the right to vote.
Suffragette, which is directed by Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane) from a screenplay by Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady, The Hour), is no Selma, but that’s not a negative.
Instead of focusing on the leaders of the women’s movement to earn a voice they’ve never had, Suffragette focuses on everyday women like Watts, whose lives are changed through political engagement.
Watts, a fictitious character played superbly by Carey Mulligan, is complemented by real-life historical figures Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep, in a glorified cameo) and Emily Wilding Davison (Natalie Press), who incite women to essentially raise hell until they are allowed to vote.
“For 50 years, we have labored peacefully to secure the vote for women,” Pankhurst says. “We’ve been ridiculed, battered and ignored. I incite the women in Britain to rebellion.”
And that’s exactly what the women do – taking to the streets to burn buildings, smash windows and blow up mailboxes until they are taken seriously.
“War is the only language that men listen to,” Watts says.
Watts’ transformation from someone who has reluctantly accepted her life of spending long hours in a dangerous workplace for low pay and a boss (Geoff Bell) who can’t keep his hands to himself to becoming as a symbol of the women’s movement, endears her to the audience.
The film’s cinematography of grey factories, gloomy skies and grimy streets traveled by working-class Londoners sets the tone for the women’s unglamorous fight.
Watts falls into the struggle for women’s rights almost by accident, as her loyalty to a co-worker (Anne-Marie Duff) to learn about the suffrage movement quickly turns her to participating in secret meetings in the back room of a pharmacy operated by Edith Ellyn, played by Helena Bonham Carter, who’s just as good in this role as she is in the Hunger Games franchise.
Watts’ commitment to the movement can’t be questioned, as she loses everything – her job, the custody of her son, George (Adam Michael Dodd), and ultimately her freedom – so women can gain everything.
Suffragette blends drama with plenty of violence as it builds to its tragic climax, when Wilding Davison martyrs herself by stepping in front of horse owned by King George V at a race in 1913. Her violent death symbolizes the sacrifices so many women made to become part of the democratic process, but at least she didn’t die in vain.
After all, Great Britain elected its first female Prime Minister in 1979.
Jon Gallo is an award-winning journalist and editor with 19 years of experience, including stints as a staff writer at The Washington Post and sports editor at The Baltimore Examiner. He also believes the government should declare federal holidays in honor of the following: the Round of 64 of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament; the Friday of the Sweet 16; the Monday after the Super Bowl; and of course, the day after the release of the latest Madden NFL video game.