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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Suffragette is a powerful drama about an important time in the history of women's rights in Great Britain. The story about a quiet laundress (Carey Mulligan) who joins a group of militant "soldier suffragettes" in 1912 London has moments of upsetting violence (possible spoiler alert): Women are kicked, hit, and beaten by police officers (with some blood shown); public and private property is vandalized and blown up; a prisoner on a hunger strike is painfully force-fed; and a character is trampled by a horse. A man assaults a 12-year-old girl (the only on-screen incident is interrupted, but others are implied), and -- in one of the film's most wrenching moments -- a young child is forcibly taken away from his mother, both of them in tears. There's a bit of smoking and drinking and one non-sexual moment of nudity when a woman is processed into prison. Minor strong language includes one use each of "damn" and "bitches." The movie's messages about equality, standing up for what you believe in, and speaking out against injustice are undeniably important, but the idea that violence is the only effective means to an end is tricky.
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What's the story?
Life isn't easy for SUFFRAGETTE Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) in 1912 London. Like her mother before her, she toils in a hot, dangerous commercial laundry, dodging both industrial accidents and a lascivious employer. She has an affectionate husband, Sonny (Ben Whishaw), and a sweet little boy, George (Adam Michael Dodd), but she can't help feeling that life could -- and perhaps should -- have more to offer. Maud is increasingly drawn to a group of outspoken suffragettes -- including her co-worker Violet (Anne-Marie Duff), independent pharmacist Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter), and zealous Emily (Natalie Press). Inspired by the words and deeds of suffragette No. 1 Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep), the women find themselves doing increasingly daring, violent things to draw attention to their passion for women's equality and right to vote. But how much will Maud have to sacrifice for the cause?
Is it any good?
This movie paints an eye-opening picture of what life was like for women before the actions of those like Maud and her friends turned the tide toward equality. It's unfathomable to realize that, in addition to being denied the vote entirely until 1918, British women also didn't have any legal rights over their children until the mid-1920s (a fact that underlines one of the film's most agonizing scenes). The desperation that drove these women is clear, and it's impossible not to sympathize with them and applaud their convictions.
But while it's understandable that Mrs. Pankhurst and her disciples felt driven to militant extremes -- characters say repeatedly that no one listened to them when they tried more peaceful methods -- the fact that their approach boils down to "vandalism, violence, martyrdom, and giving up literally everything in your life is worth it for the right cause" is tricky. More than 100 years down the line, we have the historical perspective to understand that, in this case, making change required rocking the boat, hard. But violent civil disobedience and total self-sacrifice aren't always the right answers, a fact that hopefully won't be lost on those watching Suffragette.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Suffragette's messages. Do you agree with the characters that militant "civil disobedience" had become their only option? Does that mean their tactics would be effective for other groups fighting for a cause? How does historical perspective frame the way we look at their actions today?
How did the movie's violent moments make you feel? Were they more or less upsetting than what you might see in a thriller or action movie? Why? Why does context affect the way we feel about media violence?
Do you agree with Maude's choices? What about those of her friends? How were their lives different than those of women in other social classes? How did that affect their actions? What do you think you'd have done in their place?
What did the movie teach you about what it was like to be a woman in the early 1900s? How did gender roles define women's lives? What do today's mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters have in common with the suffragettes? And how are things different?
- In theaters: October 23, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: February 2, 2016
- Cast: Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter
- Director: Sarah Gavron
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Great Girl Role Models, History
- Character Strengths: Courage, Integrity
- Run time: 106 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: some intense violence, thematic elements, brief strong language and partial nudity
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