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‘Suffragette’ celebrates the courage to effect change

“Suffragette” (2015) Cast: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep, Anne-Marie Duff, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Natalie Press, Romola Garai, Grace Stottor, Finbar Lynch, Geoff Bell, Adam Michael Dodd, Adrian Schiller, Simon Gifford. Director: Sarah Gavron. Screenplay: Abi Morgan. Web site. Trailer.

Leading the charge for change – especially on a mass scale – requires tremendous courage and bold actions. However, mustering the nerve to live up to those requirements may be more than many of us can handle. But, for those who can see the intrinsic need to bring about reform, calling upon one’s inner strength and fortitude may prove to be an inevitable eventuality, as a group of resolute women find out for themselves in the new historical drama, “Suffragette.”

In 1912 London, a smoldering movement was about to catch fire. For more than a half-century, the women of England had been lobbying to secure the right to vote, all to no avail. Their growing frustration over this lack of results prompted groups of suffragettes to step up their efforts. Under the auspices of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), founder Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) fervently urged her followers to actively take up the cause, zealously encouraging them to embrace the concept of “deeds not words” to reach their goal.

One of the groups that heeded Pankhurst’s rallying cry emerged among the workers in a London industrial laundry. Through the covert recruitment efforts of laundress Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff) and her daughter, Maggie (Grace Stottor), a suffragette circle slowly formed. And, thanks to the support of a sympathetic pharmacist, Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter), the activists had access to a meeting place to discuss their plans in secret.

However, as quietly compelling as Mrs. Miller’s arguments were, not everyone willingly signed on. Such was the case with Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), a longtime laundry employee who could readily see the injustices and inequalities inflicted upon women in the workplace and other aspects of English society but who was reluctant to do anything that might stir up trouble. As a wife and working mother, Maud was particularly concerned with keeping the peace with the men in her life, most notably her husband and co-worker, Sonny (Ben Whishaw), and her boss, Mr. Taylor (Geoff Bell). That all changed, though, when events transpired that prompted Maud to become involved – and to take action.

Before long, Maud, Edith and Violet found themselves in the midst of increasingly contentious circumstances. But their activism did not go unnoticed; English men – especially those in official capacities, such as the police and members of Parliament – took a rather dim view of the actions of these female upstarts. Even government sympathizers like David Lloyd George (Adrian Schiller) were unable to be of much help.

In the wake of these developments, the women became targets of heightened scrutiny. Their activities were closely monitored by authorities like Inspector Arthur Steed (Brendan Gleeson). And the more militant the suffragettes became, the greater the price they paid for their efforts, resulting in such consequences as jail time and loss of child custody. However, considering the stakes involved, the activists carried forth, with some of them paying the ultimate price. Their colleagues could only hope that their actions would not prove futile.

For the women in the suffrage movement, participation in the cause often served dual purposes. Not only were they helping to further an initiative of the masses, but they were also frequently fostering their own personal evolution. Many, like Maud, came to discover aspects of themselves that they never knew about. And the effects of this awakening took root in many ways.

All of these changes came about as a result of the suffragettes’ employment of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest our reality through our thoughts, beliefs and intents. Some of these changes emerged from beliefs in such notions as living with integrity, facing down one’s fears and practicing value fulfillment, the conscious creation concept related to each of us being our best, truest selves for the benefit and betterment of ourselves and those around us. The emergence of these qualities empowered the women in the movement, further strengthening their resolve to succeed on both public and personal levels.

The impact of this was perhaps greatest for those – again, like Maud – who initially believed they were being “unwittingly” drawn into the fray. On some level, these women recognized the inherent unfairness and injustice involved and believed that it needed to be changed, even if they were initially reluctant to participate. Ultimately they followed their intuition and made use of its power to seek and implement reform.

With that said, however, some may question some of the tactics the suffragettes used in making their case, no matter how noble the cause. Indeed, by today’s standards, those actions could easily be construed as terrorism. But, as noted on several occasions in the film, 50 years of polite protest got the women nowhere. So, given that the suffragettes had to rely on changing the minds of the men to win the vote, they felt compelled to make their case using means and methods that they knew the men would understand. By engaging in acts of violence, the women began “speaking the language” their adversaries would understand. It ultimately got their attention – and helped secure the vote for women, a trend that would spread around the globe and give birth to the larger women’s rights movement.

“Suffragette” is a capably made period piece chronicling the themes of this historic fight, with excellent production values and fine performances, though it certainly would have been nice if Meryl Streep’s highly billed performance amounted to more than just a scant cameo appearance. The film’s intentionally grainy cinematography lends an air of gritty realism in its depiction of the conditions at the time (even if its jittery hand-held camera work sometimes gets a tad tiresome). The script and story tell the suffragettes’ story well, though the mix of real and fictitious characters tends to skew the picture’s authenticity somewhat. This certainly isn’t epic filmmaking, but it does make for an effective history lesson (especially for younger audiences) or a good viewing option for a rainy Saturday afternoon.

Taking up arms in the quest of a just cause is perhaps one of the most important ventures we can pursue as conscious creators. But, when we consider the rewards involved, whatever effort is required generally seems more than worth it. The suffragettes learned that, and their shining example inspired generations of women who followed. We could all learn a lot from their experience.

Copyright © 2015, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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