Meryl Streep’s ‘Suffragette’ Is The Epic Feminist Film We Need
Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham Carter and Carey Mulligan bring us the movie we deserve at long last
Suffragette is not a popular word. In fact, on a spectrum of obscure words, ‘suffragette’ will fall somewhere between ‘obstreperous’ and ‘ultracrepidarian.’ It refers to foot soldiers of the early feminist movement — women who demanded the right to vote, often employing violent, militant tactics, and who were persecuted ruthlessly by the state. It’s now also the title of, finally, a big Hollywood movie.
Suffragette, starring Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham Carter and Carey Mulligan is Sarah Gavron’s directorial venture. Its protagonist is Maud — played by Mulligan — a young working-class wife and mother, whose feminist awakening is engineered by an accidental meeting with the now-legendary Emmeline Pankhurst, played by Streep.
The trailer opens with a familiar shot of Victorian England — drab, grey skies, funereal motor carriages and women going about their business in period clothing. The series of shots establishing Maud as a wife and mother are understated, yet highly evocative.
These moments of quiet domesticity, though, are bookended and overwhelmed by the charged undercurrents of the suffrage movement. Shots of women breaking windows and bombing post boxes, carrying placards and protesting en masse are thrilling precisely because they occur so rarely on the silver screen. In a film that stars Streep, Mulligan and Bonham Carter, it is still revolutionary sisterhood that’s the real star.
This movie is important because narratives of female resistance, especially violent movements, are all too often omitted by both official history and popular culture. While the ethics of violent resistance are eternally debatable, the landmark nature of the suffrage movement is impossible to contest. These women, in no uncertain terms, changed the course of history forever. And the fact that it is now considered a subject worthy of the big screen deserves unadulterated celebration.
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