Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)

Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)
Oh, to be in England...

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Suffragettes in film- "Deeds, not Words!"

When I decided to write a post on suffragettes in film, I thought there would be more material on which to draw. There are surprisingly few films (or television programs) which have dealt even peripherally with Women's Suffrage.

I have to give Walt Disney some credit for making the story of the suffragettes so key to Mary Poppins, however the underlying message was really that Mrs. Banks should have been at home, paying more attention to her kids rather than getting "Votes for Women". We'll let that pass as they also skewered Mr. Banks being emotionally absent to the children. That was about as equal as you got in 1964 I suppose.

And truly, I think this is the only exposure to the story of the suffragettes that many citizens of the world have ever had!

We'll have to see whether the issue comes up in the new film Saving Mr. Banks starring Tom Hanks as Walt Disney and Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers (the author of Mary Poppins). Apparently Disney only put the suffragette story in to explain why Mrs. Banks would have needed a nanny. The majority of the American audience didn't know what a nanny was at the time the film was released.

Apparently the best film about Women's Suffrage is Iron Jawed Angels which was made as an HBO film in 2004. Starring Hilary Swank, Frances O'Connor, Angelica Huston, Vera Farmiga and Julia Ormond it even has Patrick Dempsey as a love interest. How did I never hear about this before???

I have requested this for Mother's Day (OK, who am I kidding? I ordered it myself from Amazon and tossed it to my husband today to be wrapped for Sunday). So I will review it when I have seen it. Stay tuned but it sounds amazing.

Just a brief history lesson here. The women's suffrage movement was active mainly in England, America and the colonies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The purple white and green stood for dignity, purity and hope respectively. It is a popular myth that the colours were green white and violet for "Give Women Votes".

Posters like this one were a common sight in England and the USA. Emmeline Pankhurst coined the phrase "Deeds, not Words" as the male politicians kept telling women to be patient and that the topic would be debated...sometime soon! Women demonstrated in the streets and were often arrested and force fed if they went on hunger strikes. If thrown in gaol, they considered themselves political prisoners.

Valentine Wannop (Adelaide Clemens) from Parade's End gave a little demonstration on a golf course (with her friend Gertie) whose escape was aided by Christopher Tietjens played by Benedict Cumberbatch.

I was thrilled to see that Mr. Selfridge included the suffragettes right from the first episode, making it clear that Harry Selfridge's fictitious female financial backer Lady Mae Loxley was also a quiet funder of the women's suffrage movement and held her meetings at the restaurant in Selfridge's.

Edwardian suffragette pendant 
Of course you just know that the real Harry Selfridge would have been marketing all kinds of merchandise to the suffragettes at the time. Indeed he would likely have wanted women to wield more power in England so they could have more influence over how the money was spent. Shrewd man that little Jeremy Piven!

On a more serious note, New Zealand was the first country to grant women full voting rights in 1893 and Switzerland was the last western country to do so in 1971! And just so you know, there are still places in the world where women still cannot vote such as Saudi Arabia and The Vatican. So please vote in every election you are able to. Our ancestors (who were denied the right) won it for us, ladies!

Let me end with a link to a YouTube music video that you may want to show your daughters, granddaughters, sisters and girlfriends. It won an Emmy and you will have Lady Gaga stuck in your head for days!

YouTube Bad Romance: Women's Suffrage


  1. One of the main characters in The Winslow Boy is a suffragette, although I don't remember how much the film dwells on it. Her views certainly influence what happens in the story.

    1. Hi Jane. I have to check that one out. Sounds good!

  2. June Foryste is another in Forsyte Saga's sequel To Let.

    1. Hi Katherine. I didn't get far enough through the Forsyte Saga to see this. I was watching it on YouTube which is not ideal. Perhaps I should invest in this one! I did like what I saw of FS. Something to blog about when I finally do!

  3. Let me alert you to some feelings you will have while watching Iron Jawed Angels. There will be several times that your irrational brain will become enraged to the point you will want to inflict bodily harm on the nearest male. Just breathe through it until your rational brain regains control.

    You will desperately want to travel bank in time, grab a sign, and march for the right to vote. You will also wish desperately to connect with any female ancestor from this time. These feeling will be overwhelming. You may be left with a deep burning desire to wipe out any injustices against women left in the entire universe.

    You will never ever take the right to vote lightly again. You will want to vote at every single opportunity even if it is for the local dog catcher. I watched it YEARS ago and the feelings the movie evoked never ebbed. Example? My 20 year-old daughter told me that voting was worthless and she was not doing it anymore. I lost my mind and the ensuing rant lasted 20-minutes (my husband started timing me after the first 5. He often bemoans that he didn’t have any means to record me). She either learned a lesson or she is just afraid because she kept voting.

    Suffice it to say you will love it, loath it, and be outrageously proud of the woman in equal measure. I cannot wait to read your review!

  4. Two comedy movies in which suffragettes play a leading role:
    - The Great Race (1965) – character Maggie Dubois
    - Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965) – character Patricia Rawnsley




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