Pathé’s releases, including recent films Pride (2014) and Selma (2015), have established them as the go-to company for films focusing on social struggles. When it was first announced that Pathé would be releasing the first ever feature film about the Suffragettes, the Suffragette fangirl in me grew giddy with excitement as I donned my violet, white and green Votes for Women badge and looked through my Suffragettes memorabilia replica collection white drinking from my Votes for Women flask! (I have a lot of Suffragettes merchandise even including bags and playing cards and this can all be bought from the Museum of London online shop. Side note: I have always adored the Suffragettes and even my old high school’s uniform is now made up of the Suffragette colours of violet, white and green as the first headmistress was the president of the local Suffragette group. It is a girls’ school which has always promoted strong female role models of the past and encouraged us to fight for gender equality and that clearly rubbed off on me).
The Suffragettes were the heroines that brought the male-dominated world’s attention to the inequality that struck every area of a woman’s life. They risked everything and endured horrific torture to win political equality for women by earning them the right to vote.
“We’re not law-breakers, we’re law-makers”
So says Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) in the new Suffragette trailer (found at the bottom of this article) which twists Pankhurt’s original quotation “We are here not because we are law-breakers; we are here in our efforts to become law-makers” when attempting to explain the anarchist actions of the Suffragettes in court. It is important to understand however when thinking about the Suffragettes, that these were women who had attempted consistently to have their voices heard through peaceful means for a very long time, yet the majority of men, and many of their fellow women, did not listen. This led to the more expressive acts of violence in their attempt to be heard that many know the Suffragettes for. These acts were often described as the acts of terrorists. The name of the Suffragettes was tarnished by those who were desperate to cling on to male dominance and power, and were adamant that women kept their submissive positions as housewives. The Suffragettes were truly incredible women whose actions often led to disownment from husbands, brothers and fathers, family and friends and were repeatedly sent to prison in order to simply win the right for women to vote.
Whilst many women involved with the Suffragettes were of working class background, many were of middle class background and well educated. So whilst many of these Suffragette prisoners went on hunger strike whilst imprisoned, the government began force-feeding the Suffragette prisoners. As the hunger strike embarrassed the government, the government was reluctant to allow it to go on as any Suffragettes dying in prison over their treatment would be seen as a martyr for their cause. Force-feeding the women however led to the outrage of the public, even those who were against the Suffragettes as many of these Suffragettes were middle-class and so were expected to receive better treatment in prison. Similarly, force-feeding happened in lunatic asylums and so to force-feed a Suffragette was to controversially compare potentially well-educated, middle-class women to a lunatic inside the asylum.
The ‘Cat and Mouse Act’ came into play in 1913 when the Suffragettes were at the height of their movement. This meant that the Suffragettes who refused food would be left to starve in prison until they were incredibly weak. However,
before the women died, they were released into the public ‘on licence’. It was assumed that the women would then eat properly again and regain their health. If they carried on taking part in the Suffragette demonstrations and causing what the government perceived to be ‘trouble’ again, they were re-imprisoned and so the process would repeat itself, much like a cat playing with its prey before finishing it off.
Finally a film has been made about these incredible women and their struggles in the Suffragette movement of the Edwardian era (although the first pre-Suffragette feminist was arguably Mary Wollstonecraft (1759 – 1797) whose book The Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) is one of the monumental pieces of writing on gender inequality). Suffragette focuses on the story of Maud (Carey Mulligan) whose husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw) is against the movement toward gender equality. Maud’s yearning for gender equality leads her in to becoming involved with fellow women who have named themselves the Suffragettes and embark on a terrible and arduous battle to win the vote for women.
An upcoming British production about British women, Suffragette naturally features some of the monumental female stars of British cinema including Helena Bonham Carter (nicknamed ‘the English rose’ during her early acting career) and Carey Mulligan whose recent role as literary heroine in Thomas Hardy adaptation Far From the Madding Crowd (2015) has firmly established her as a figure of British female heroism). Meryl Streep co-stars as iconic Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst alongside talented British actor Ben Whishaw.
Every year the London Film Festival hosts its opening night with a chosen upcoming film and its premiere with the filmmakers and actors in attendance, and this year Suffragette has been granted that honour. On Wednesday 7th October 2015 at Odeon Leicester Square, Suffragette will grace the screens for the very first time. The film will fortunately be live-streamed in cinemas across the UK though so that the premiere of the film can be watched by thousands before the film’s official release at the end of the month.
Watch the brand new Suffragette trailer here:
Suffragette will have general release in cinemas on 30th October 2015.