Thehistorical film genreHistoricalfilms are based on some historical event or even some mythic or heroic figurethat posed an important role in the history. Many subgenres of historical filmhave 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 thepast with the adventures of the main character of the story. A perfect exampleof this genre is Suffragette, ahistorical drama from 2015. Thefilm is set in 1912, a time of the famous suffragette movement and their radicalactions in the Great Britain. With the huge variety of real historical events,the film Suffragette, written by AbiMorgan and directed by Sarah Gavron, depicts a life of an ordinary woman MaudWatts, a 24-year-old laundress, who joins the suffragette movement and sufferstough 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, shebecomes even more persistent and radical in her intention of winning the votefor women.
Also, when her picture is printed in newspapers as a knownsuffragette, she loses her job, but that doesn’t stop her in bombing of mailboxes or even in blowing up a Parliamentary residence of the Chancellor of theExchequer, Lloyd George. She is imprisoned for the second time and in prisonshe goes on a hunger strike and is submitted to force-feeding. For the purposeof winning the right to vote for women, suffragettes have been violent, as itis displayed in a film.
Almost all of the actions that Maud, as anunexceptional member of the suffragette movement, did are the real example ofwhat was happening in Britain at that time. The actions justify EmmelinePankhurst’s slogan “Deeds, not words”,which is constantly uttered by the suffragettes in the film. With Maud’ssentence “Webreak windows, we burn things, because war is the only language men listen to.” from the film, it is clearly seen that the suffragettesconsidered men to be senseless and insolent towards any woman and that theywere ready to change that. TheSuffragette movementStartingwith the foundation of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage by MillicentFawcett in 1897, the fight for women’s right to vote began. Unlike MillicentFawcett, who supported a peaceful protest, Emmeline Pankhurst, presented in thefilm as the leader of the movement, considered that more direct and evenperhaps violent actions were needed, so she founded the Women’s Social andPolitical Union (WSPU) in 1903.
They became known as the Suffragettes, theorigin of the word “suffrage” comingfrom French, meaning the right to vote. Their aim was winning the right to votefor women through hunger strikes and violent methods. Bombing of the mail boxesor breaking of the windows was part of their daily routine. Emmeline Pankhurst,in her autobiography, explains this movement as something that has neverhappened before and confirms that women suffered hard consequences byparticipating in it: “This was the beginningof a campaign the like of which was never known in England, or for that matterin any other country.
..we interrupted a great many meetings..
.and we wereviolently thrown out and insulted. Often we were painfully bruised and hurt.” Mostof all, they wanted to be heard and seen. Since colours were always a sign ofrecognition among people, they chose purple, white and green colours as coloursof their movement.
“Purple, as everyone knows is the royal colour, itstands for the royal blood that flows in the veins of every suffragette, theinstinct of freedom and dignity…white stands for purity in private and publiclife.
..green is the colour of hope and the emblem of spring.”1 Also, the robes they were wearing bear hugeimportance. To show their affiliation to women’s movement and to wipe out anyconnection with masculinity, they wore dresses as a sign of their womanhood. Inorder to present their cause to people, they had their own banners with thesign “Votes for Women”. As it isshown in the film, their campaign was purposely neglected by the newspapers andwas constantly under attempt to be shut down. However, they could not bestopped, and the proof for that is an act of Emily Davison in June 1913.
Shethrew herself in front of king’s horse at the Derby with a banner “Votes for Women” in her hand. She diedfrom the injuries she had received, but the news about her act had spreadworldwide. The footage of her death is also one of the first footages ever tobe filmed. Gender roles Notwithstandingthe fact that the story about fighting for the vote is the main theme, the distinctionof gender roles in the society is also one of the main issues of the film.
Toldfrom the perspective of a laundress, and not from the perspective of a leader, filmprovides a trustworthy insight of men’s behaviour towards women. Women wereforced to imbed into patriarchal society in which they were treated as lowerand unprivileged beings. From the example of Maud’s boss, we see how brutaltreatment and abuse women had received from men. He is physically and mentallyabusing them, forcing them to work until late hours, but still their salaryremains utterly low in comparison with men’s salary.
Also, women were expectedto take care of their children and household – only when achieving all of thiswould they fulfil what was expected of them in the society. Nowadays women arestill expected to take care of their children and household, even though theyhave their own jobs. In fact, they are still worse paid then men and are stillless included in politics. So with an exception of having the right to vote,from 1912 until today, many things remained the same. ConclusionTherelevance of this theme continues to stand up to present days. The mere factthat the film about suffragettes was made in 2015, about one hundred yearsafter the movement and when every woman has a right to vote indicates that thisis not just a film about winning the vote, but about the constant fight for theequality between genders.
In specific, that same message carries the ending ofthe film which shows the funeral of Emily Davison, not the actual winning ofthe vote for women. The fact that winning of the vote in 1928 is not shown inthe film could be explained as a symbol for still unattained equality betweenwomen and men. 1 Quoteby Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence, editor of a weekly newspaper Votes for Women