The Suffering ‘Suffragette’

I’m not much of a fan of false advertising, especially when it is so unnecessary as the movie is good anyway. I’m on record as saying I would go and watch Meryl Streep play Kermit the Frog if it showed up in the cinema. She’s the best actress of her generation and my lifetime, and there’s not a close second. But the 1 hour and 46 minute drama called ‘Suffragette’ is not really a Meryl Streep movie. She has a cameo appearance as the famous Ms. Pankhurst who in 1912ff. led the charge for women to get the vote in the U.K. (which did not transpire until 1918, and even then only involved some women over 30. It was not until 1928 that all women in the U.K. had the vote). She is on screen for maybe five minutes or so in tbis film. And this does a considerable disservice to Carey Mulligan who is a star in her own right, and whose character, Maude Watt, is the constant focus of this film. Even Helen Bonham Carter, who plays another of these suffragettes, has considerably more air time than Streep. In short, the ads for the movie this Fall have been considerably misleading.

Having got that off my chest, let me say this is a very fine movie indeed and well worth your time and effort. It is indeed, almost impossible to believe that women did not have the right to vote in the U.S. until 1920, in France until 1944, in Italy until 1945, and astoundingly in Switzerland in 1971! I could go on with the story of Malala or how Saudi Arabia is only now allowing women to vote, but you get the picture. Half of the human race has been disenfranchised for far too long when it comes to vote rights, and don’t even get me started on the right to equal pay for equal work, which still isn’t happening, even in America! All of this still astounds me, that this nonsense is still going on in 2015, but it is. It certainly helps to explain what I see all the time—Evangelical women students feeling they have to do twice as good a work as men to get the same credit and recognition. It’s just wrong.

There is an especially effective scene in the movie in which Maude who has been cast out of her home by her husband and forbidden to see her own child who is put up for adoption, is being comforted by a fellow suffragette who quotes to her the following words—–“And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.” It was the heart cry of many of these long suffering women, and at the end of the film when there is shown some actual footage with women marching for there rights after the martyrdom at the Darby of Ms. Davison, one of the suffragettes who gave her life to publicize the cause (she ran onto the track and was struck by the King’s horse and died, holding a banner pleading ‘votes for women’), the banners were largely Bible quote– like ‘greater love hath no one than they lay down their life for their brethren’. The movie ably portrays the tactics used by women to finally force the issue. They did not attack human life, but they did break windows, blow up mail boxes, and even the house under construction of the Prime Minister (when no one was present). As Maude says at one point ‘we have to attack the golden calf of private property because war is the only language men understand’. Over 1,000 women went to prison during this period in England for demanding the vote. It’s hard to believe.

There are many moving and disturbing scenes in this film, and for a Christian audience it raises the quite appropriate question— at what juncture do such forms of protest go beyond the Gospel? Even if you are not a rebel with a cause, this is a stirring film that reminds us that women, right into modernity, have been treated as second class citizens. It is not a surprise we have never had a woman President or Vice President in America. They are still often treated as second class citizens in the one place where that should never happen— in ‘the home of the free and the land of the brave’…. and even in that land’s churches.