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Suffragette filmmakers on crafting a ‘softly brutal’ woman’s story

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Steffan Hill

Sarah Gavron’s historical drama Suffragette doesn’t hold back in its depiction of the suffering of the working-class women who were the “foot soldiers” of the English women’s suffrage movement in the early 20th century — and Gavron did that on purpose.

“There were so many ways you could have gone with this story,” Gavron told EW at the Telluride Film Festival earlier this year. But the filmmakers ultimately decided to focus on the life of a working-class woman (played in the film by Carey Mulligan) because “we wanted to tell the story of an ordinary woman so it would connect with audiences today,” Gavron said.

“The film is deceptive,” screenwriter Abi Morgan observes, recalling that Meryl Streep, who plays Emmeline Pankhurst, called it “softly brutal.”

In casting Mrs. Pankhurst, the leader of the suffragette movement, “we needed a kind of iconic actress for an iconic woman,” Morgan says. Streep’s part in the film, when measured in screen time, is very small; its significance, however, can’t be overstated.

“She sort of shines this beam of light,” Morgan says, “that pulls these very ordinary women out of the shadows and places them into this incredible moment in history.”

Watch the video above for the full interviews with Gavron and Morgan. Suffragette is now in theaters.

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