The
historical film genre

Historical
films are based on some historical event or even some mythic or heroic figure
that posed an important role in the history. Many subgenres of historical film
have developed, most important and common of them being historical dramas,
costume dramas, medieval romps, war film epics and biographical epics (biopics).
These kinds of films mostly envelop and merge great historical events of the
past with the adventures of the main character of the story. A perfect example
of this genre is Suffragette, a
historical drama from 2015.

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The
film is set in 1912, a time of the famous suffragette movement and their radical
actions in the Great Britain. With the huge variety of real historical events,
the film Suffragette, written by Abi
Morgan and directed by Sarah Gavron, depicts a life of an ordinary woman Maud
Watts, a 24-year-old laundress, who joins the suffragette movement and suffers
tough consequences in doing so. She is beaten by the police, arrested,
abandoned and thrown out of house by her husband. When she loses her son, she
becomes even more persistent and radical in her intention of winning the vote
for women. Also, when her picture is printed in newspapers as a known
suffragette, she loses her job, but that doesn’t stop her in bombing of mail
boxes or even in blowing up a Parliamentary residence of the Chancellor of the
Exchequer, Lloyd George. She is imprisoned for the second time and in prison
she goes on a hunger strike and is submitted to force-feeding. For the purpose
of winning the right to vote for women, suffragettes have been violent, as it
is displayed in a film. Almost all of the actions that Maud, as an
unexceptional member of the suffragette movement, did are the real example of
what was happening in Britain at that time. The actions justify Emmeline
Pankhurst’s slogan “Deeds, not words”, which is constantly uttered by the
suffragettes in the film. With Maud’s sentence “We break windows, we burn things,
because war is the only language men listen to.” from the film, it is clearly seen that the suffragettes
considered men to be senseless and insolent towards any woman and that they
were ready to change that.

The
Suffragette movement

Starting
with the foundation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage by Millicent
Fawcett in 1897, the fight for women’s right to vote began. Unlike Millicent
Fawcett, who supported a peaceful protest, Emmeline Pankhurst, presented in the
film as the leader of the movement, considered that more direct and even
perhaps violent actions were needed, so she founded the Women’s Social and
Political Union (WSPU) in 1903. They became known as the Suffragettes, the
origin of the word “suffrage” coming
from French, meaning the right to vote. Their aim was winning the right to vote
for women through hunger strikes and violent methods. Bombing of the mail boxes
or breaking of the windows was part of their daily routine. Emmeline Pankhurst,
in her autobiography, explains this movement as something that has never
happened before and confirms that women suffered hard consequences by
participating in it: “this was the beginning
of a campaign the like of which was never known in England, or for that matter
in any other country…we interrupted a great many meetings…and we were
violently thrown out and insulted. Often we were painfully bruised and hurt.”

Most
of all, they wanted to be heard and seen. Since colours were always a sign of
recognition among people, they chose purple, white and green colours as colours
of their movement. “Purple, as everyone knows is the royal colour, it
stands for the royal blood that flows in the veins of every suffragette, the
instinct of freedom and dignity…white stands for purity in private and public
life…green is the colour of hope and the emblem of spring.”1 Also, the robes they were wearing bear huge importance.
To show their affiliation to women’s movement and to wipe out any connection
with masculinity, they wore dresses as a sign of their womanhood.

In
order to present their cause to people, they had their own banners with the
sign “Votes for Women”. As it is
shown in the film, their campaign was purposely neglected by the newspapers and
was constantly under attempt to be shut down. However, they could not be
stopped, and the proof for that is an act of Emily Davison in June 1913. She
threw herself in front of king’s horse at the Derby with a banner “Votes for Women” in her hand. She died
from the injuries she had received, but the news about her act had spread
worldwide. The footage of her death is also one of the first footages ever to
be filmed.

Gender roles

Notwithstanding
the fact that the story about fighting for the vote is the main theme, the distinction
of gender roles in the society is also one of the main issues of the film. Told
from the perspective of a laundress, and not from the perspective of a leader, film
gives a trustworthy insight of men’s behaviour towards women.  

 

 

Conclusion

The relevance of
this theme continues to stand up to present days. The mere fact that the film about
suffragettes was made in 2015, about one hundred years after the movement and when
every woman has a right to vote indicates that this is not just a film about winning
the vote, but about the constant fight for the equality between genders. In specific,
that same message carries the ending of the film which shows the funeral of Emily
Davison, not the actual winning of the vote for women. The fact that winning of
the vote in 1928 is not shown in the film could be explained as a symbol for still
unattained equality between women and men.

1 Quote
by Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, editor of a weekly newspaper Votes for Women