Suffragette

Helena Bonham Carter portrays Edith Ellyn, center, in a scene from "Suffragette.

So you think we've come a long way, eh? Think again.

Women earn 71 percent of their male counterparts in the workplace, according to Claudia Goldin, Harvard labor economist. And if you're black or Hispanic, that percentage decreases significantly. The suffrage movement in England in the early 1900s began to pave the road toward equality, but we still aren't there.

The new film "Suffragette" reminds and educates us of the war to give women basic human rights and voting rights. After screening it in Chicago, I had the pleasure to sit down and discuss this film with director Sarah Gavron.

Through six years of research, Sarah's team discovered the "unpublished diaries, memoirs and accounts of working women who had fought for the vote, tirelessly." These were the diaries of women who "turned to civil disobedience and risked so much and sacrificed so much."

And it seemed a perfect time to reintroduce this topic — because it is still so socially relevant.

Carey Mulligan stars in "Suffragette" as the fictional Maud Watts, fighting for the right to vote in 1912. Watts is a composite of three real women. "Everything that happened to Maud happened to someone we found in the research," Gavron said. "These are the women who were most often in the shadows of the history books."

The story is told from Watts' perspective, allowing us to see the conditions the women were forced to work in, without any say. Watts is inadvertently drawn into the movement. But the more involved she becomes, the more she loses, including what's most precious to her, her son. In that era, women had no rights, even over their own children. We see the inner conflict and the sacrifices she is forced to make in order to possibly make a difference. The struggle and uncertainty is unmistakable.

The story highlights the 16-month period when bombings and vandalism were used to make a statement. This rich film portrays the solidarity, planning and uncertainty for the future these women experienced.

Filmed in sepia tones, the 360-degree hand-held camera technique truly draws you in. The production team used clothing from the era and very little make-up, which allowed the film to be as "truthful and grounded and real as possible," Gavron said.

"We really wanted to place you in the shoes of a woman in 1912," Gavron added. "So we slightly drained the color ... and we were capturing their performance rather than staging [it]."

Mulligan has a standout performance. She typifies the poor working woman with no rights, finding herself awakened to possibilities of a different life. We feel her every emotion: The anger as she faces sexual harassment and abuse in the work place, the sacrifice as her son ripped from her arms.

Brendan Gleeson creates a subtly complex character as Inspector Arthur Steed. Gavron confides that the men who were approached to play a role in this film were a bit put off: "There's not that much for them to do."

But, she added, Brendan really responded to his character, which is based on two Irish police officers. Gavron jovially recalled, "Gleeson had never been on such an estrogen-filled set." It was a crew filled with women behind the cameras and as heads of departments.

Concluding the emotional journey of this film is real footage found by chance by the film's archivist. This final moment gives faces to those who sacrificed and risked it all for their future daughters. You just might find yourself audibly saying "thank you" to these women.

"Suffragette" is the close-up view of a movement more than 100 years ago, but one still relevant today. With outstanding performances from Mulligan and Gleeson, it's an emotional and historically significant film that pulls you into the era.

Yes, we've come a long way. But we have a long way to go.

4 out of 4 stars

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