To my surprise, there were barely any showings at Vue or Odeon. Apparently, James Bond had taken most of the slots – big business rules even at the cinema! So we went to the Picture House, which was lovely and more intimate.
On the way there I asked Katie what she knew about the suffragettes.
“That one of them died by getting knocked over by a horse?” she offered.
Emily Wilding Davison’s tragic death after being trampled by the King’s horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby, seems to be the best known event of the epic struggle – and even over 100 years later it is frequently quoted in order to get doubtful women to consider voting in elections.
I am passionate about politics, a campaigner and a feminist, so Suffragette was about the most perfect film for me!
I absolutely loved it.
Right from the start it was completely gripping and the three main characters were brilliantly cast. Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter – their circumstances dramatically different, were utterly convincing. Ann-Marie Duff was just wonderful. I loved her spirit and grittiness.
“The Cause” as it was referred to, had been in operation for 50 years. Yes that’s 50 YEARS. Politicians – all men of course – barely blinked, aside from deriding the polite efforts of letter writing and banner waving.
Finally, chief suffragette, Mrs Pankhurst, who seemed to be regarded as some kind of early 20th century terrorist by Special Branch, put her foot down in 1912 and called for a period of “civil disobedience.” This involved window breaking, bombing communication lines and generally drawing attention to the campaign through a series of lawless actions.
One of the many fascinating aspects of the film was that it highlighted how the struggle for the vote managed to bridge ordinarily unbridgeable connections.
Whereas previously it would have been impossible to imagine the aristocracy and poorest women in society mixing, The Cause, because it inspired women from across the class divide, drew from all walks of life, like moths to a candle flame.
Actually, although things weren’t great for wealthy women, circumstances for deprived women in 1912 were often so unutterably awful, that many knew that the only way things could improve was if they were allowed to select their representatives – who would then have to take women’s issues seriously if they wanted to get elected.
Wages were paltry for long gruelling hours, children were employed and employee rights were virtually non-existent – especially for women, who had to put up and shut up, no matter how awful conditions were – no matter how they were treated by their employers.
Their lives were totally and utterly at the mercy of men. Some were good and some were bad, but you got what you were given, didn’t complain and got on with it, despite the pain and unhappiness.
“It’s a chance for a better life”, one of the lead characters told MP, Lloyd George.
Completely emotionally involved in the story, tears coursed down my cheeks as one of the main characters endured some terrible hardships, while the appearance of Mrs Pankhurst to her campaigners, despite the pursuit by Special Branch had me involuntarily punching the air, with a hiss, which earned me a Corbyn “side eye” from my daughter. #Embarrassingmother
I recognised the sense of solidarity and comradeship that being in, or leading a campaign brings. The sense that is possible that large numbers of people working together can change the world, if they work hard enough and are smart enough.
The film is at once inspiring and tragic, dark and menacing, but also shot through with hope and light for a world where girls and women could forge lives for themselves independently, without fear of punishment or being cast out.
It showed that some people believe so wholeheartedly and passionately in what they are campaigning for that they risk losing everything they hold dear. Others risk their lives.
Around the world we still see this phenomenon at work. There are always people passionate enough to campaign for or against something, to the exclusion of everything else.
Someone once advised me when I was an idealistic but rather hapless campaigning 19 year old: “You can’t change anything without getting involved in politics.”
I have repeated this many times to those who think politics is boring or irrelevant.
Unfortunately, there is still a vast swathe of people who seem to believe this.
In the 2015 general election, over one quarter of people in East Devon did not vote. That’s almost 20,000 people – just in East Devon alone.
I encountered some apathy during my general election campaign and it was depressing. I was told:
“What’s the point, you’re all the same”
“You’ll be after the money just like all the others, just you wait”
“Sorry, I don’t do politics”
“I don’t know much about it so can’t make a decision”
If we want a government that is not simply going to look after those at the top of society and dismiss those on low incomes or on benefits, as “scroungers,” a government that looks after our natural world because it is our home and rapidly being destroyed, we are going to have to persuade FAR more people to vote.
We all know the story of the suffragettes. But seeing the struggle firsthand, what life was like for women in those times, how they were punished – often violently – by men, for independent thought and action – is a completely different matter.
I urge every man, woman and child over 12 to watch Suffragette. And if they do nothing else as a result, pledge to vote in future elections. It is the only way to change things for the better. And we owe it to our children.