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Stars: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Natalie Press, Romola Garai, Geoff Bell, Meryl Streep

Director: Sarah Gavron

After years of unsuitable or disappointing roles since her breakthrough in An Education, Carey Mulligan comes good again, in spectacular fashion, in this story of a pivotal year, 1911/12, in the campaign in the UK supporting votes for women.

Writer Abi Morgan and director Gavron ignore some of the historical facts - 99 per cent of the suffragettes were upper-class women - to concentrate on working-class Maud Watts (Mulligan), a laundry presser who finds herself caught up in the conflict.

With an almost flawless East London accent, Mulligan's strong and sometimes heartrending performance illuminates the whole of an otherwise fairly mundane film as, inspired by a speech from Mrs Pankhurst (a rather arch cameo from Streep), she goes from interested bystander to full-blooded rebel, destroying post boxes, smashing shop windows and blowing up the foreign minister's new summerhouse, as local volunteers are marshalled by pharmacist Edith Ellyn (Bonham Carter).

In the process, Maud loses both her husband (Whishaw) and son, and is imprisoned on more than one occasion, being barbarically force-fed when she goes on hunger strike.

The distinctive Bell is his usual repulsive self as the lecherous laundry boss who finally gets his come-uppance.

Hardly a feelgood film, this is certainly an emotive one, with Mulligan's performance so compelling that you can almost forgive the fact that a woman of her humble origins would have been an unlikely rebel. As the fellow-worker who introduces her the movement, and the police chief in charge of bringing the suffragettes to heel, Duff and Gleeson also make commendable contributions.

David Quinlan

UK 2015. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox (Pathe/Film 4/BFI). Colour by Cinelab.
106 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 06 Oct 2015