Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Suffragette [2015]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB ()  ChicagoTribune (3 Stars) (2 Stars)  AVClub (C)  Fr. Dennis (3 1/2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB () review
ChicagoTribune (K. Walsh) review (S. O'Malley) review
AVClub (J. Hessenger) review

British Film Institute (B. Dixon) Suffragettes in Film
The Guardian (A. Von Tunzelmann) article on the historicity of the film
Times of London (D. Finkelstein) article on the historicity of the film
The Independent (C. Criado-Perez) review / reflections on status of women in politics today 
Sunday Times (J. Dean) reflections on today (R. Michelucci) article about point of history in the film (Emily Davison)* (A.W. Murray) review
The Guardian (C. Shoard) review
The Guardian (P. Bradshaw) review
The Independent (C. Criado-Perez) review
The Observer (M. Kermode) review

Irish Times [D. Clarke] review

Suffragette [2015] (directed by Sarah Gavron, screenplay by Abi Morgan) is a film that could (and probably should) make a lot of Viewers, the world over, uncomfortable. The film is about the Women's Suffrage Movement in Britain in the early part of the 20th Century (1908-1913 ... just before WW I).

Today it may seem incredible that with very few exceptions -- New Zealand (then still a far-flung "self governing" colony of the British Empire 1893), South Australia (ditto 1894), The Grand Duchy of Finland (then still a part of the Russian Empire 1907), in PARTS of the U.S. (Washington state (1910), California (1911), Oregon, Arizona and Kansas (1912), Illinois (1913) --  it took until the beginning of the 1920s (after WW I) for women to begin to get the right to vote in significant number of nations  around the world.

Indeed, THE DEFEATED NATIONS OF WORLD WAR I and THEIR SUCCESSOR STATES _almost without exception_ gave women the right to vote BEFORE that War's Victors.  (Defeated: Russia (1917), Germany (1919), Austria (1919), Turkey (the exception 1930, but it was in chaos for much of the time between 1918-1930), Successor States: Finland (above 1907), Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania (1918), Poland (1919), Czechoslovakia (1920), Ireland (1922); victors U.S.A. (1920), Britain (1928), France (1944 !), Italy (1945).

Today, we in the West certainly consider ourselves superior in this regard to the Muslim world (and Protestants certainly feel themselves superior to Catholics...).  But it should strike Viewers of this film with discomfort that the _same arguments_ that are used to keep women down / "in their place" in the Muslim world (AND IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ...) were being employed at the beginning of the 20th Century to keep women down EVERYWHERE (including, gasp, that bastion of reason and fairness, Britain): If a woman had a good father, a good brother and/or good husband, why would she need guaranteed rights by the State (or by the Institution)?  Would not her concerns already be taken into consideration by "the good men" in her life?  And would not the "added" expression of her opinions (yes, in her own words, but ...) be "redundant"?

And yes, Catholic viewers ought to be very uncomfortable viewing this film as well, hearing the same arguments that we have heard against women's Ordination in recent decades (to the ministerial Priesthood, but even more importantly to the Episcopate) being used in the early 20th century to deny women the right to vote: Again, why should women need a vote, need power, if the men who already have this power are already basically good people?  [Or is an advocate for women's enfranchisement suggesting then that "the good men in charge" may not be all that good (competent, honest, committed, sincere...)?   Why don't you like your priest, bishop, gasp the Holy Father?  What did they ever do to you?]

I'm not advocating here for women's ordination, just noting that the arguments against it are actually quite similar to those used to previously keep denying women the right to vote.  And I'd argue that the Church that has existed over its two millennia through epochs of slavery and feudalism has always noted that such systems _need not be Evil_.  They only become Evil when the people in charge become corrupt (by sin).  A "good slave master" or feudal lord could run his farm / lands with remarkable justice and compassion.  Problems "only arise" when the slave master / feudal lord prove to be "not altogether good" or "come to have a blind spot or two ..." However, given that we also teach that world is scarred by the effect of Original Sin, it would seem that most / all rulers would also be "not necessarily altogether good..." hence ... "perhaps a problem."

Anyway, we have chosen as a Church, on basis of the best opinions / teachings of our Church leaders who we put with a fair amount of training and, we hope, God's blessing, in charge of such matters, to say that there is no need to Ordain women to the Priesthood let alone to the Episcopate.  And part of the consequences of our decision to follow this teaching is to squirm when we're confronted by films like this.   Fair is fair.  We do believe, after all, that we have free will, and that all freely chosen actions, from good to bad, have consequences.

To the film ...

The story is told through the point of view of Maud Watts (played wonderfully by Carey Mulligan) a working class laundress in a London sweat-shop at the turn of the 20th century.  Initially, she honestly has no political opinions.  She's too busy simply working in the sweat-shop along with her similarly working class husband Sonny (played by Ben Whishaw) to keep a roof over their heads and over the head of their 8-or-so year old son George (played by Adam Michael Dodd).  She comes to the Women's Suffrage Movement somewhat by accident: a bubbly if already radicalized co-worker on her floor named Violet Miller (played by Anne Marie-Duff) introduces her to it.

Maud would have preferred to remain an anonymous face in the crowd simply lending support to the cause.  However, when Violet, who was asked to give testimony to a Parliamentary Commission on the matter (in the context of her working in said laundry), couldn't really do so (as she was beaten up by, presumably, her husband) Maud stepped in, to tell her piece, quite sincerely, to the Parliamentary Commission, and ... her action ... had consequences: 

First, NO, Maud's testimony CHANGED NO LAW (the Parliament was not anywhere near ready to do anything even remotely substantial yet).  BUT, Maud did "come onto the radar" of the authorities.

So, in the coming weeks or months, Maud did find herself (along with others) arrested at some protest.  Now, arrest at a protest can be traumatizing.  She's given a week in jail for her involvement, not altogether stiff BUT ... if one's working from day-to-day, week-to-week at a laundry with little-to-no labor rights let alone women's rights, the consequences just "ripple through."  Her husband becomes afraid that she's gonna lose her job.  The boss, a true a-hole (and holding all the cards) is certainly happy to encourage him to feel that way.  The utterly apolitical but "law and order" police inspector Arthur Steed (played hoenstly quite magnificently by Brendan Gleeson) in charge of "keeping a lid" on "these kind of protests" in London at the time, warns Maud that she's "just being used" by higher class women to risk what they themselves won't risk.  But as the story progresses, Maud finds _herself_ ever more committed to the cause of women's rights (and one of the most basic of these is simply having a right to vote) even as she certainly suffers for this at pretty much every single step of the way.

The rest of the film, based on actual historical incidents / events unspools from there.

It's an excellent and IMHO _quite realistic_ film.  Again, ACTIONS have CONSEQUENCES ... but unless people do ACT (and accept SUFFERING FOR THEIR CHOICES) change does not happen.

Excellent film.


An excellent film from the current day which touches many of the similarly _institutionalized_ paternalistic obstacles that the women of London in the current film faced is the 2015 Cannes film festival award winning Iranian film Nahid [2015] (making the "festival" / "art house rounds" in the West these days).  In that film, a 30-something divorcing Iranian woman named Nahid is being allowed to divorce her somewhat loutish similarly 30-something husband, BUT ... current Iranian (Shiite based / Islamic) law presupposes that she'd go back to her older brother, or find someone else to marry ... AND ... she, like the Mary Tyler Moore character of the famous 1970s American sitcom, would REALLY just like to "make it on her own ..."   Again, an excellent film that touches many of the same paternalistic / horizons-limiting issues that the women of the current film (though admittedly 100 years ago) faced as well.

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