Political franchise for women. Which only affects the status of half the world’s citizens. A politically and socially trivial non-issue as we all know. (That’s sarcasm in case there are any idiots reading this blog).
When I saw this film on the supermarket check-out I just had to buy it. After all, it is a hundred years since the suffragettes famously struggled against the British establishment, and it is about time a film was made about the issue. But my reaction after I had watched the film was – “what the heck!”
The first jaw-dropping moment came when the down-trodden laundry worker is interviewed by the friendly, high-ranking, just-happens-to-be an Irish Republican sympathiser, (Easter rising 1916, for the ignorant), cop, who in a friendly way conveys that he personally believes in women’s suffrage, being a friendly, compassionate, sexually equalist Irish republican sympathiser, but he has to “apply the law”, which in this particular instance is grabbing a woman at random from a woman’s suffrage public meeting, and suggesting if she doesn’t want to end up in prison (having kindly accepted that the lady in question is NOT a suffragette) here is a little card she can take and if she just happens to hear anything of interest about the suffragettes next political sketch, just let him know. Well, the last bit was credible.
I wondered if an historical zealot had scrutinised the records of prominent London police to discover that while Ireland was on the brink of revolution against the English establishment which didn’t give a damn about them, there just happened to be an Irish Republican sympathiser in the higher ranks. I decided I wasn’t going to waste any time trying to find out ,but if anyone is aware of such a person, I would be delighted to hear about it.
Up to the point in the film where this occurred I was dozing. Up till then it was a dozy film. Nice, mushy woman’s magazine stuff, lightly sketching the miserable working conditions that women endured at that time, out to work part-time aged 7 (these children were called half and halfers. Half time at work, half time at school). Working as hard or harder than men for a fraction of the pay. But the men’s conditions were not much better. A relevant point why women’s suffrage was needed.
But then we go on to the distraction of the Irish Republican sympathiser cop, who cares about women’s rights?
At first I thought this was a feeble attempt to deflect attention from the fact the suffragettes were in head to head conflict with the ENGLISH establishment. Making out they were not such bad boys after all, it was an Irish cop wot did it. But that didn’t settle with me and I thought on. Then I thought about the total b*******cks of equating Irish Republicanism with women’s rights, and the penny dropped.
When the IRA started up most recently in the sixties, the mature men of the Catholic communities hi-jacked by the gangsters had a different spelling out of the acronym, IRA. I Ran Away. They were pointing to the total uselessness of the IRA pretensions of protecting anyone in their communities.
Ireland has a simultaneously long history of IRA revolutionaries and suppression of women. It is the one thing the “revolutionaries” and the general populace agree on. Keeping women in their place. The IRA tarred and feathered teenage girls, kidnapped, raped, tortured and murdered women. Catholic women. For trivial reasons or no reason at all. But nobody bothered much about this aspect of their activities while the bombs were going off. So much for protection of women. What about children? While on the tourist trail in Ireland why not stop off at the historic and very beautiful town of London/derry. The people are (genuinely) friendly. You will also see a large number of men in wheelchairs. Derry is probably the knee-cap capitol of the world. When I lived in Derry in the early eighties, these men were teenage boys, aged about 16. This was the IRA practice of knee-capping children, children who didn’t want to be involved in IRA activities. The IRA used children to plant bombs because if they were caught the penalties were less severe. The mature men could have used stronger terms than, I Ran Away, but the Irish express themselves mildly.
So what did the Irish Republican sympathisers, and IRA do for women’s rights in Ireland? Did they lend their support to the opening of contraceptive clinics? Did they put their political weight behind making abortion services available in Ireland? Did Republican sympathisers put on counter demonstrations against demonstrators picketing newly opened clinics offering contraception? Were they in the forefront of exposing the scandal of paedophile priests covered up by the Roman Catholic church? Did they march against the Magdalene laundries?
Nope. Not a dicky-bird. Even Irish revolutionaries are reactionary.
So what was the point of having an Irish Republican sympathiser cop, working for the English establishment, express his sympathies for women’s rights, when women’s rights have never been on the political agenda in any part of the political spectrum in Ireland?
Because it is putting two ideas side by side. Feminism, and Irish terrorism. Shorten to feminism = terrorism. At this point the penny dropped. Answering two questions. Why did such an important event as women’s suffrage have to wait a hundred years for a film to be made about it. Why now? Because now we have the “Establishment” who failed miserably to deal with Irish terrorism, and are now failing miserably in dealing with Islamist terrorism, but are being very, very successful, while the threat of terrorism, goes on and on, in extending the definition of the word “terrorism” to include anyone that the Establishment is opposed to. They were opposed to women’s rights a hundred years ago and they are opposed to women’s rights today. Accusing people of terrorism who are just trying to stand up for their rights is the new gag.
So this film suggests that at the height of the struggle between the IRA circa 1916, and the English Establishment, a Republican sympathiser was WORKING for the English Establishment.
What an interesting idea.
My Dad, born in 1905 commented that at any time conditions in Ireland were just getting better, the IRA would start up. Now why would people who claim that their intentions are to better the conditions of the Irish embark on campaigns of anarchy every time conditions in their country were improving? The peasants are just starting to raise themselves slightly from the gutter when political anarchists dump them back into that gutter and worse off than before. Whose agenda does this look like to you? Whose interests does this serve? Power interests avoid attacking people directly. They prefer to do it by proxy. Then they get their interests served while somebody else gets the blame. Divide and Rule was the British Establishment strategy for maintaining colonial power. Sow dissension, and maintain the profitable status quo while subordinate groups attack each other instead of the real cause of their problems. (I am not saying that some Republican sympathisers and IRA were not genuinely deluded. They wouldn’t have acted as they did if they thought they were acting to promote the interests of the English and Irish Establishments). The Irish population was kept down, terrorised, extorted, exploited, murdered and tortured at random. By the IRA. Just when conditions were improving. With a random brutality that neither the English nor Irish Establishments could have carried out directly. A huge population of well-educated, working class, Irish men and women, who had just gained access to secondary education post-war, striving to better themselves in a socially stable and peaceful environment could have seriously threatened the caste system stability in both Ireland and England. The Troubles in Ireland have been presented as a sectarian war. An alternative perspective is that it was a class war of the most brutal kind. The aristos no longer ride rough-shod over the peasants, they just get somebody else to do it.
Putting an Irish Republican sympathiser into the story about the suffragettes is extraordinarily irrelevant, and it is hard to believe it is historically accurate. But the idea of Irish Republicans working FOR the English Establishment is an idea with wings and worth considering in its full implications. The Irish are not the first people colonised by the English Establishment and conned by them, and they won’t be the last.
Now the propaganda agenda of the film becomes clear. This isn’t an historical reconstruction. It is an Orwellian historical deconstruction. Designed to grease the political agenda of the moment. It’s timing. It is a trivial film about a very important subject which in the process trivialises the subject.
But there are other aspects to this light-weight film. The promoters of this film wanted people to watch it. Two of the leading roles are occupied by the mega-stars Meryl Streep and Helena Bonham Carter.
Meryl Streep’s reputation as a great actress is justified, as is the reputation of Helena Bonham Carter. The roles they have acted in the past demonstrate they are masters in their trade. So how is Mrs Pankhurst portrayed in the film? It is a cardboard cut-out figure. (I do not intend this as a criticism of Meryl Streep, unless perhaps niggling curiosity why she took a role so far beneath her. Nobody could have done anything with a script which gave you the role of a walk-on puppet). If there was anything less than two-dimensional she would be it. The cardboard police that they put in pound shops to scare away thieves have more character. What have we learnt about Mrs Pankhurst after watching this film? That she is an upper class female. We get the impression that this shallow, upper class women, swanned around in comfort while she orchestrated the dangerous activities of her down-trodden, working class menial, foot-soldiers. Force-feeding in prison is demonstrated on the laundry maid, not on Mrs Pankhurst. You are left with the impression that women’s suffrage resulted from the hobby of a precious upper-class woman. If that had been the case there would have been no suffragette movement. The comprehensive issues of women’s rights are not addressed. The years the suffragettes exhausted every normal, acceptable, social and political measure to get women’s suffrage on the agenda is skated over. The widespread support for votes for women, even among working class men, was ignored. Working class women, were not as presented, feeble-minded, ignorant, passive dupes, easily led astray. They were heavily invested in the suffragist and Trade Union movements at the time. Middle and upper class women led the way because they had time and resources. But support among working class women – and men, was widespread. Working women desperately needed political clout to begin to address their dismal conditions. Obtaining the vote was the necessary first step.
There. I’ve told you something the film didn’t, and that is only a tiny amount of the relevant material the film somehow managed to omit mentioning.
Arguably the franchise was extended due to the occurrence of the First World War. Mass conscription of men gave women the opportunity to be employed in every workplace, which demonstrated that women were no less capable than men, and having had this experience, the Establishment probably realised giving women the vote might have less seriously socially de-stabilising consequences than with-holding the vote. The Establishment feared revolution, already a threat from working men reacting to desperately bad working conditions. They threw a sop to women expecting that women voting would probably not make much difference to the political balance.
But Helana Bonham Carter’s casting is brilliant. I have to say that of all the aspects of the film I enjoyed Bonham’s Carter’s portrayal of her role. Her acting as usual was empathic, drawing you into her character, circumstances and objectives. She is a very sympathetic actress in general. However, when you think of Helena Bonham Carter’s previous roles, especially those which will be uppermost in the minds of young people, which role stands out? The famous totally out-to-lunch, evil, conniving fruit loop in Harry Potter.
Some coincidence that. A nice little picture is building up here. The statements, the subliminal sub-script if you like that this film is presenting. Under the presentation of a film about the suffragettes struggle to bring about votes for women, one hundred years too late, ignoring masses of relevant material, a nice little wallow in the miserable laundry maids’s life, poverty-porn, I believe is now the expression, we have several equations being dropped quietly into the presentation. While skating as lightly as possible over the deep and serious issues involved, we are given the suggestion via an Irish Republican cop working for the English Establishment, that feminism = terrorism. Mrs Pankhurst was a light-weight, shallow, upper class nitwit misleading working class women ignoramuses into harm’s way. And via the casting of Helena Bonham Carter as another leading suffragette, that women seeking women’s rights are fruit loops.
The same old. Women’s issues are trivial, unimportant. Women who speak out about injustice are nutcases and women should just shut up and know their place, provide sex to keep the men pacified, grow lots of babies to maintain slave like conditions for workers, and lots of prostitutes to keep the men happy, and do the drudgery in the home and out for peanuts, that the men don’t want to do. Put up and shut up. Aiming for anything higher upsets the whole apple cart. Women are half the population.
Feminists still have a bit of work to do. The Establishment plainly is still against them.
So how would I rate this film out of 5 stars?
Is it worth the money? Too late for me. I have already paid a tenner for it. But my advice would be don’t pay a penny for it. Propaganda is supposed to be free.
By the way, when did women get the vote in Ireland?
Starring Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham Carter, Carey Mulligan
Part sponsored by the National Lottery