I don’t know whether it’s a revolution in reality or just in my mind, but I’m pretty sure there is a stream of films about empowering stories of ordinary women. I love stories that are a different version of a very well-known historical event. The people, the women, who have been the world’s backbone are now being thrown into the lime-light and it makes me feel part of something; not just an exclusive group of women but a world that wants to tell amazing stories, regardless of gender.
The recent film, ‘Suffragette’, was almost entirely an all-female production. I’m not quite sure how I feel about this. Yes, it’s making a protest but by excluding men, is it just continuing the segregation? I don’t think I believe men and women can work without each other because all the women working on ‘Suffragette’ had lives away from filming that undoubtedly involved a man. Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) lost her life, her son, her husband because she was living like a lot of men live: not solely focused on upholding her family. She was made to feel like she was being selfish.
The stories being told through three films in particular have female lead roles. This is not unusual for rom-coms but it’s extremely unusual for women to be taken entirely seriously in cinema.
I recently saw ‘Joy’. Jennifer Lawrence’s character was continuously laughed at and continuously intimidated for entering an entirely male work force. Yet a lot of this superiority, surprisingly, came from other women. They were competitive but this was also overthrown by another female character that proved the need for kindness and support in a terrifyingly isolating world, Joy’s best friend, Jackie (Dascha Polanco). Their partnership was beautiful yet the film may not be rated highly because there was little male-female romance. But films led by all male casts, also void of romance, often do incredibly well. The difference is that there is an expectation for a female protagonist to have a love interest. It was refreshing to see a very complicated film that focused very tightly on the relationships between the characters.
In ‘Made in Dagenham’ the male character played the supporting role in the film and relationship. Without him, Rita (Sally Hawkins) wouldn’t practically or emotionally have been able to lead the strike for equal pay.
The working class women explored in these films often succeed after they’re given the support of somebody credible in society. In ‘Made in Dagenham’, this was Miranda Richardson’s character, Barbara Castle, an educated woman that bridged the gap between genders because her education and class granted her more respect.
In ‘Suffragette’, Emmeline Pankhurst was the educated, higher class woman that used her position to support the views of thousands of working class voices. There was a bit of controversy with Meryl Streep playing the fleeting role of Pankhurst despite her doing a lot of press for the film. However, by building Meryl Streep’s fame and status, we get a sense of how incredible the suffragettes thought she was. We feel as starstruck as them because, to us, Meryl Streep is very famous.
But what I really love in ‘Suffragette’, ‘Made in Dagenham’ and one relationship in ’Joy’ is the uniting of women. Different classes come together, uniting women rather than them competing against each other like with Joy’s sister, Peggy. It shows that humanity prevails; strength, bravery, courage, kindness should be traits of both genders because both are human.
For me, the most beautiful, powerful, vulnerable and courageous moment in ‘Suffragette’, the most moving of all the films I’ve mentioned, was the scene between Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) and her little boy. Her husband had put him up for adoption because he couldn’t be the backbone for Maud’s “lime-light”. But the moment when Maud finds out the sacrifice she made is the most excruciating scene in cinema. She begs her son, George, with so much force to remember her and her name and her love for him so that he can one day find her. It’s a heartbreaking scene and shows the sacrifices that go with success.
But it also shows just how similar everybody is. Although all the women in these films have done extra-ordinary things, they’re also very ordinary, which is why we connect with them and their stories so well.
P.S. I can’t not mention the beautiful cinematography in these films.