MWF Attends Screening of Suffragette

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The Medical Women's Federation were lucky enough to be invited along to an exclusive screening of the upcoming film, Suffragette, starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham-Carter and Meryl Streep. We invited two MWF members to give us their take on the film. 


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Dr Sangeeta Rana

Earlier this month, a group of us were fortunate to be brought together by MWF for a fun and thought-provoking preview of the new Suffragette movie (starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, and Meryl Streep). It’s been almost a century since British women won the right to vote, yet the lessons—and experiences—of the suffragettes still stand. We left the theatre shocked by the extent of the antagonism against the suffragettes, and inspired by (and thankful for) for their persistence. Nor is their job fully completed; I was personally taken aback by hearing that women were only granted the right to vote in Switzerland in the 1970s, and that Saudi Arabia is planning to grant women the vote just this year. Overall, the movie was inspiring and a stirring reminder that there are still battles to be won.

These battles continue. In our own field, we’ve all been hearing in the news and on social media about the new junior doctor contracts that have been proposed. The changes could have a disparate impact on women, with de facto financial penalties for maternity leave and changing careers. And as we know, women are still in the minority across the government in decision-making, both in parliament and local councils. Across the pond in the U.S., where I grew up, the right of women to free contraceptive care, and the legality of some forms of such care, are being challenged, again by a national government with a small minority of female representation.

..All in all, a reminder to keep speaking out, and coming together with MWF friends and colleagues for more fun and inspiring events!

Miss Angel Mthunzi

Set in early 20th century Britain, Suffragette is an extraordinary film depicting the very real and intensely emotive story of the brave and determined women of Britain fighting for suffrage.

The film begins at a laundry facility where Maud Watts (a fictional character portrayed by Carey Mulligan) has worked since the very young age of 7. Now, in her early 20s, Maud is still working in the same laundry, washing and ironing sheets. Believing that working in a laundry is all she can do to support her young son and husband, Maud continues to toil in the laundry despite the sexual abuse she suffers from her boss. Her husband, Sonny, who also works at the laundry, dares not say anything about the abuse of his wife but valiantly salutes a portrait of the King every evening before bed. It is no surprise that Maud’s face is worn from endless strife- she is poor, a woman, a young mother and a wife who has always done what she’s told. Does she have it in her to rebel?

Skilful work by the director, Sarah Gavron, and an understated yet compelling performance by Carey Mulligan come together brilliantly to convey the outwardly soft but inwardly impassioned spirit that is Maud. What would the vote mean to Maud? When she casts a stone into a shop window, Maud unwittingly becomes drawn into a movement that will cost her everything she holds dear. Over the next hour of the film, we see Maud Watts blossom into a suffragette and grass roots activist. “We break windows, we burn things, ‘cause war’s the only language men listen to”, Maud declares in rebellion. In this moment, we see her determination and willingness to fight for the vote. It is through her eyes that the audience experiences the heart-breaking losses that suffragettes suffered whilst fighting for justices that today we perhaps take for granted. Her bleak and poverty stricken life galvanizes the film bringing the immediacy of the suffragette struggle to life while the rest of the cast play excellent supporting roles; portraying real suffragettes.

Ann Marie Duff plays Violet Miller, a gobby but formidable woman who is also a worker at the laundry house and central in recruiting Maud to the suffragette movement. Meryl Streep makes a short cameo as Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the two sisters who pioneered the use of militant tactics by the Suffragettes. In an interesting twist of history, Helena Bonham Carter, great-grand daughter of Herbert Asquith (the prime minister at the time), plays Edith Ellyn, a fiercely loyal suffragette and self-proclaimed “soldier” who will stop at nothing to get the vote. Throughout the film we see the heart breaking and tragic losses these women faced including domestic abuse, rape and slander. Perhaps the most heart breaking is the death of Emily Davison (Natalie Press), the real life activist who died under King George V’s horse after she stepped out onto the Derby racecourse to draw attention to the suffragette cause. Her duly dramatized and tragic death makes headlines across the world and the film ends here with real life scenes from the funeral of Emily Davison.

Abi Morgan (scriptwriter) does extremely well to depict defining moments of the suffragette struggle. Packed full of emotion and emotionally rousing (bring a box of tissues), “Suffragette” rounds up one part of the struggle for women’s suffrage. Is it a classic? Critics may argue that the film is somewhat sentimentalised. Indeed some aspects of the suffrage movement are only alluded to, or ignored altogether. Everyone that disagrees with women’s suffrage is basically cast as an ignorant or sexist pig, invoking eye rolling from the audience. The divide between those supporting militant tactics and those in disagreement is not mentioned and the impact that the militant action had on the suffrage cause is cast in a largely positive light. The possibility that it may have damaged the cause is not really entertained. Nevertheless, it is important to note that in their struggle, the suffragettes never intended anyone to come to any harm. Moreover, the scenes depicting disagreement between suffragettes and women who are not interested in suffrage allude to the difficulties faced by those (women and men) fighting, peacefully or aggressively, for women’s suffrage.

While it may not be historically perfect, Suffragette is a compelling account of the fight for a basic human right.

Suffragette is out on nationwide UK release on October 12th 2015

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