Carey Mulligan is just one of several A-listers appearing in the historical drama Suffragette (out Oct. 23) but her character Maud is the film's star. Maud is a working-class woman in Britain in the early 1900s who finds herself becoming a part of the early feminist movement after the social climate becomes too oppressive to tolerate any longer. Her journey gives the viewer insight into this historical period, and Maud is portrayed with brutal honesty. That being the case, it'd make sense to wonder if Carey Mulligan's Maud in Suffragette is based on a real person.
The answer to that is both yes and no. Maud herself wasn't an actual person, and she isn't based on one specific historical figure. Instead, the character was amalgamated from the real-life stories of many women. Screenwriter Abi Morgan explained to Variety that, although there were many working-class women involved in the suffrage movement, they rarely wrote memoirs or provided other documentation of their stories because many of them were illiterate and/or couldn't afford the unpaid spare time to write. In order to recover these stories, Morgan and the film's creative team did extensive research, including looking at public records of police interviews, news footage from Parliament meetings, and even postcard correspondence between suffragettes. The resulting film paints what appears to be a fairly accurate picture of the working-class suffragette, which I personally think is a valuable addition to cinematic history. Here are some other feminist films which gave a snapshot of women's struggles and triumphs during different historical periods.
The Color Purple
This film is often credited as being Whoopi Goldberg's breakthrough role, and it was also Oprah Winfrey's cinematic debut. The movie, which took place in the U.S. South in the first half of the 20th century, was based on the award-winning novel by Alice Walker. The story would also later be made into a Broadway show.
Based on the real-life story of Crystal Lee Sutton, Sally Field played a Southern mill worker in the early 1970s who became a union organizer despite facing tremendous adversity. For this performance, Field won the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Mona Lisa Smile
Julia Roberts played a young professor who raised eyebrows at Wellesley College in the 1950s by challenging the all-female student population to question gender roles and change their ideas of what a woman's life trajectory should be.
Although Maud in Suffragette isn't based on an actual individual, her story shows the real trials and tribulations of British working-class women in the suffrage movement. Carey Mulligan's role in Suffragette is therefore one of great importance as it represents not just one woman but a collection of women who exhibited strength and bravery in their fight towards a common goal.
Image: Focus Features