Is Carey Mulligan single-handedly reliving the story of the women’s movement in the United Kingdom? In “Far from the Madding Crowd,” released this spring, the actress was Bathsheba Everdene, Thomas Hardy’s headstrong Victorian. She inherits a farm, runs it with sweat and savvy, and goes in pursuit of the independent life — a daunting task given that men are in control, and three of them come courting.
Jump ahead about 40 years and Mulligan is Maud Watts, a Londoner who toils long hours at a giant laundry, keeps her head down and accedes to the wishes of her piggish boss, even if it means submitting to his molestations — something he has been doing since she began working there, still practically a child.
But in “Suffragette,” written by Abi Morgan (“The Iron Lady” and “The Hour”) and directed by Sarah Gavron (“Brick Lane”), Maud has finally had enough. A fictional tale set amid the real world of early 20th-century England, the film tracks Maud’s political awakening and radicalization. One day, she is a low-paid, hard-pressed working woman — a wife and mother, too (Ben Whishaw is her spouse, Adam Michael Dodd is George, their son). The next day, she is addressing Lloyd George in Parliament, falling in with a band of rock-throwing, mailbox-bombing activists and getting carted to jail by club-wielding police.
But the drama becomes very real, very fast, when windows are broken and buildings torched, when Maud — her job and her child taken from her — is arrested and sent to prison. Like the real-life suffragette Emily Wilding Davison (portrayed in the film by Natalie Press), Maud goes on a hunger strike and is eventually force-fed, a rubber tube shoved down her gullet.
☆☆☆ 1/2 out of 5
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Natalie Press, Helena Bonham Carter, Ben Whishaw and Meryl Streep.
Director: Sarah Gavron.
Running time: 1:46.
Rated: PG-13, for violence, profanity, adult themes.