The acclaimed film, ‘Suffragettes’, opens at the Wellesley Cinema on Monday 12 October having attracted maximum news coverage last week when it premiered at the London Film Festival. More than a hundred feminist protesters jumped the barriers at the opening night in Leicester Square, lying down on the red carpet and igniting smoke bombs before security staff brought the demonstration under control.
The protest by Sisters Uncut, who campaign against domestic violence, was designed to draw attention to cuts to support services and to draw parallels between them and the suffragette movement of the early 20 century. They argue that cuts to public services are “killing women.”
Helena Bonham Carter stars in the film alongside Carey Mulligan, Anne-Marie Duff with Meryl Streep in a cameo role as suffragette leader Emily Pankhurst founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union which campaigned for women’s voting rights in the early 20th century. Bonham Carter applauded the protest: “I’m glad our film has done something. That’s exactly what it’s there for. It’s a perfect response.” At a press conference last week multiple Oscar-winner Meryl Streep said, “This is such an important movie”.
The film reminds contemporary audiences that, in 1913, rape in marriage wasn’t a crime, women couldn’t sit on a jury, graduate from Oxford or Cambridge and could not vote. The suffragettes used controversial and sometimes violent means such as setting fire to buildings and chaining themselves to railings when peaceful protest failed to bring about changes in the law. Suffragettes who were imprisoned were force-fed by guards and a protest at Epsom Racecourse resulted in the death of Emily Davison when she tried to stop King George V’s horse during a race. However, it was the outbreak of World War One which finally brought about change. With men fighting in the front line women took over many of their traditional roles and, in 1918, the Representation of the People Act was passed to give some women over the age of 30 the vote.
New Zealand was the first country to give the vote to women in 1863; women in Switzerland didn’t get the vote until 1971; those in South Africa could finally vote in 1994 and Saudi Arabian women became eligible to vote this August.
The film was written by Abi Morgan and directed by Sarah Gavron and is the first mainstream film about the campaign for equal voting rights a century ago. Hollywood is predicted to increase the number of female roles in films over the next few years.
‘Suffragettes’ opens at the Wellesley Cinema on Monday 12 October at 7.45pm and runs until Sunday 25 October.