“Suffragette” may be a period piece, but with the conversation about the gender pay gap between actors and actresses currently dominating Hollywood, the film remains relevant to current events — and not by mistake.
“I think there’s something that felt very modern about it,” explained the film’s star, Carey Mulligan, at TheWrap Screening Series on Tuesday. “Today there are so many women who are desperately fighting to go to school, or drive a car … We didn’t want it to feel distant.”
Citing global activist movements like the Arab Spring, the protests against gang rape in India and activism against Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, the film’s writer Abi Morgan explained that its message about fighting for British women’s right to vote is currently reflected all over the world.
Morgan and director Sarah Gavron spent six years working on the film, consulting with feminist groups, academics and female historians about the period in the early 1900s and the Suffragette movement. They also spoke to Helen Pankhurst, the great-granddaughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, the movement’s leader played by Meryl Streep in the film, to ensure that they got everything right.
Though some of the details in “Suffragette” are fictional, Morgan explained that the movie is firmly rooted in history, with many of its fictional characters being composites of real people involved with the Suffragette movement at the time. Details of their lives and personality were taken from the records of their testimonies to Parliament that were declassified by the British government in 2003.
Streep’s Pankhurst in particular was a major figure in the movement. And though she only has a minor role in the film, her legacy affects the lives of the fictional characters. “She was a hero to these women,” Mulligan explained.
The energy that surrounded Pankhurst’s public appearances was not that far off from the energy among the cast and crew the day Streep was on set, according to Mulligan. “We were like little kids,” she said, going on to describe the set as “buzzing” the day Streep filmed her scene.
In reality, it was Mulligan’s original suggestion to cast Streep in the role, an idea that began with her mother. “My mom was like, ‘Oh you’ve got to ask
But in the end, Streep did end up taking the role, following what Gavron described as a “tense three weeks,” allowing her to lend her “star power” a pivotal scene in the film.
And according to the women, the time and effort is starting to pay off. “We’ve had lots of young people going to the cinema… and 18-year-olds to 25-year-olds saying, ‘I’ll never not vote again,” Gavron said, explaining that one of the goals of the film is to remind people how hard fought for the right to vote was.
“I hope it reminds people how important it is to stand up and be counted,” she said.