Suffragette (2015) & the Privilege to Vote

IMG_0802-5This afternoon, I treated myself to a screening of Suffragette, which premiered in the UK today (12 Oct 2015; 23rd in the US and in Canada). The movie is 1 hour 46 minutes long and covers the years 1912-13 (during the reign of King George V). It also features many beloved period drama actors (listed alphabetically after main star, Carey):

  • Carey Mulligan (Maud Watts – main heroine, age 24, washerwoman, wife and mother)
  • Adrian Schiller (Lloyd George – Liberal politician sympathetic to women’s plight for suffrage)
  • Anne-Marie Duff (Violet Miller – suffragette, victim of domestic abuse, mother)
  • Ben Whishaw (Sonny Watts – Maud’s husband who also works at the same ‘laundry factory’)
  • Brendan Gleeson (Inspector Steed – in charge of tracking the ‘anarchist’ women)
  • Helena Bonham Carter (Edith New – one of the suffragettes who participates in vandalism and violence)
  • Meryl Streep (Emmeline Pankhurst – leader of the British suffragette movement)
  • Natalie Press (Emily Davison – suffragette whose death in 1913 may have helped draw attention from around the world to the suffragette movement)
  • Romola Garai (Alice Haughton – suffragette and wife of Benedict)
  • Samuel West (Benedict Haughton – an unsympathetic politician to the suffragette movement)

I cannot say that I ‘enjoyed’ it because there were many scenes that were painful to watch and some so heartbreaking that I couldn’t hold back the tears. I give it 10 stars because it was very well made and all the actors deserve a round of applause for their performance. It’s certainly the most moving and inspiring movie of the year. I encourage all women and men to watch it.

It is always hard to watch a historical drama in which the protagonists are suffering. Yet perhaps the hardest part is not being able to console yourself that it happened loooooong ago because you’re aware that many in the world are still abused and denied basic human rights. These films remind us how privileged we are and inspire us to campaign for the rights of those with none. The real question, I suppose, is how far would we go?

Quick review/thoughts (No spoilers)

  • Based on the movie poster and trailer, we expect that Emmeline Pankhurst will be one of the main characters. Rather disappointingly, Meryl Streep made a brief appearance and disappeared for the rest of the film. She was probably on-screen for no more than 2 minutes.
  • That said, the three ladies we see mainly in the film are Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, and Anne-Marie Duff. It’s Ms Duff’s face we should be seeing on the poster.
  • Interesting historical fact: Did you know Emmeline Pankhurst had female ‘bodyguards’ who were jujutsu-trained? See, whoever said women in corsets and dresses are weaklings?
  • How fitting to choose Alexandre Desplat for the soundtrack. I don’t know if this makes sense but his music usually allows you to reflect, to think.
  • We see the ‘darker or uglier’ side of the suffragette movement. This particular group felt that they needed to resort to violence in order to be heard by men who ‘only respond to war’. Certainly makes you think about the choices many protestors and campaigners make – what is more efficient?
  • We are also reminded of what these suffragettes endured – police brutality, domestic violence, and force feeding. Sadly, all three still exist today.
  • In the movie, Emily Davison is portrayed as a young woman. In fact, she was 40 at the time of her death in 1913. The saddest part is reading (later on Wikipedia) that she died 4 days after the tragic accident.
  • I loved the ending: historical footage and the closing slides (what do you call those scenes where it’s just words?) of the significant years in women’s voting history in Britain and around the world.
    • I was rather surprised that Canada was omitted even though New Zealand, Australia, and a few other Commonwealth nations were listed. I decided to review Canada’s women’s voting history and realised that it might have been too confusing to add it to the list. So let me share some important dates below…

To my fellow Canadians,

This 19 October, go out and VOTE.

VOTE IF YOU ARE A WOMAN

because women did not win the vote until:

  • 1916 – women over age 21 in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta
  • 1917 – women over age 21 in British Columbia, Ontario
  • 1918 – Nova Scotia; women over 21 with property and not ‘alien-born’ in federal elections
  • 1919 – New Brunswick
  • 1920 – universal suffrage to all women except minorities
  • 1922 – PEI
  • 1925 – women over 25 in Newfoundland
  • 1939 – Quebec

VOTE IF YOU ARE A ‘VISIBLE MINORITY’

because ‘visible minorities’ (e.g. Japanese-Canadians, Chinese-Canadians, Indian-Canadians, and First Nations) did not win the vote until:

  • 1947 – Chinese (thanks to popular opinion!) and Hindus (incl. Sikhs, Muslims, etc.)
  • 1949 – Japanese in BC (who didn’t serve in WWII)
  • 1960 – The greatest injustice of all. Aboriginal men and women, the ones whose ancestors were first in the land we now call Canada were finally granted the unconditional right to vote in 1960. This meant they no longer had to sacrifice their other rights in order to vote.

VOTE IF YOU ARE UNDER 30

because the voting age was not lowered to 18 until 1970 (federally). British Columbians, it was 19 from 1952-1992! Prior to 1970, it was 21.

AND IF YOU ARE NEITHER OF THE ABOVE, VOTE ANYWAY

because you do not have to pay to vote. You have a voice. Use it.

So on this Canadian Thanksgiving day, I would like to thank the women and men before me who campaigned for equal rights. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.