Actor Carey Mulligan talks about her new film, Suffragette, and film industry sexism in this extract from our October issue.

Those expecting a gentle piece of heritage cinema might be surprised by Suffragette.

There are scenes of rioting and civil disobedience early on, often filmed in tense close-up with handheld cameras. But this is soon overshadowed by a brutal sequence in which a crowd of women outside Westminster, angry at being told that a change in law to grant women the vote has failed to pass, are set upon by policemen armed with truncheons.

Carey Mulligan

Moments like these—and many others—are both a shock and an education. Although the basic outlines of the suffragette story are well known, and characters such as Emmeline Pankhurst (played in cameo by Meryl Streep) will be familiar to most, much of the detail is an invaluable history lesson. I ask Mulligan if she was surprised when researching her role. 

“Yes, a lot of the stuff in the script was surprising to me,” she replies, nodding her head.

“I knew about the hunger strikes, for example, but investigating what that meant and what force feeding meant was eye-opening. And I didn’t really know anything about the destruction of property and communication lines. Also, the act of walking into a gallery and defacing a famous piece of art…well, just imagine walking into the V&A today and taking a knife to a painting. It would be terrifying! A crazy, terrifying act.”

So has the women’s movement been overlooked in the teaching of our history in schools?

“Well, I remember a page in a textbook that was dedicated to social movements in Victorian Britain, but it wasn’t something that we went into in great detail. I was talking about this recently with Anne-Marie [Duff, who plays fellow laundry worker Violet]. She remembers very distinctly covering the suffragettes, but I don’t. I certainly didn’t feel, as a young woman, any kind of pride when it came to voting. It wasn’t something I was anticipating through my teen years.”

Carey Mulligan

Indeed, although Pankhurst herself has inspired many plays, TV dramas, books and songs, this is the first time the suffragettes have been depicted on the big screen. Given how gripping and historically important their story is, you’d think that the big studios would have addressed this oversight before now.

“I don’t think it’s an oversight at all,” Mulligan interjects firmly. “I think we have a sexist film industry, and stories about women are largely untold. This is one that’s fallen by the wayside because of that. I think a lot of people have sat around tables in various production offices and decided it wasn’t financially viable.”

 

The full interview can be found in the October issue of Reader's Digest. Subscribe online or download the digital app

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