Iron Jawed Angels

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Iron Jawed Angels
File:Iron Jawed Angels.jpg
DVD cover
Directed by Katja von Garnier
Produced by
Written by
  • Sally Robinson
  • Eugenia Bostwick-Singer
  • Raymond Singer
  • Jennifer Friedes
Music by
Cinematography Robbie Greenberg
Edited by Hans Funck
Distributed by HBO Films
Release dates
  • January 16, 2004 (2004-01-16) (Sundance)
  • February 15, 2004 (2004-02-15) (United States)
Running time
125 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Iron Jawed Angels is a 2004 American historical drama film. It was directed by Katja von Garnier and starred Hilary Swank as suffragist leader Alice Paul, Frances O'Connor as activist Lucy Burns, Julia Ormond as Inez Milholland, and Anjelica Huston as Carrie Chapman Catt. The film received critical acclaim after it premiered at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.[1] Much of the principal photography was done in Richmond, Virginia.

The film focuses on the American women's suffrage movement during the 1910s, and follows women's suffrage leaders Alice Paul and Lucy Burns as they use peaceful and effective nonviolent strategies, tactics, and dialogues to revolutionize the American feminist movement to grant women the right to vote. It was released in the United States on February 15, 2004.


The film begins as Alice Paul (Hilary Swank) and Lucy Burns (Frances O'Connor) return from England where they met while participating in the Women's Social and Political Union started by radical suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and led by her daughter Christabel Pankhurst. The pair presents a plan to the National American Woman's Suffrage Association (NAWSA) to push directly in Washington for women's rights to vote nationally. They see that their ideas were much too forceful for the established leaders, particularly Carrie Chapman Catt (Anjelica Huston), but are allowed to lead the NAWSA Congressional Committee in DC. They start by organizing the 1913 Women's Suffrage Parade, on the eve of President Woodrow Wilson's inauguration.

While soliciting donations at an art gallery, Paul convinces labor lawyer Inez Milholland (Julia Ormond) to serve as a figurehead for the parade and meets a Washington newspaper political cartoonist, Ben Weissman (a fictional character, played by Patrick Dempsey), causing romantic fire to start. In a fictional scene, Paul tries to explain to Ida B. Wells why she wants African American women to march in the back of the parade in order to not anger southern Democrats in the movement, but Wells refuses, and joins a white group during the middle of the parade. (Wells did refuse to be segregated and marched with her state delegation but never met with Paul about it.[2]) After disagreements over fundraising, Paul and Burns are pushed out of the NAWSA, and found the National Woman's Party (NWP) to support their approach. Alice Paul briefly explores a romantic relationship with Ben Weissman. He has a child (also a fictional character).

Further conflicts within the movement are portrayed as NAWSA leaders criticize NWP tactics, such as protesting against Wilson and picketing outside the White House in the Silent Sentinels action. Relations between the American government and the NWP protesters also intensify, as many women are arrested for their actions, charged with "obstructing traffic."

The arrested women are sent to the Occoquan Workhouse for 60-day terms. Despite abusive treatment, Paul and other women undertake a hunger strike, during which paid guards force-feed them milk and raw eggs. The suffragists are blocked from seeing visitors or lawyers, until a U.S. Senator (the fictional Tom Leighton) manages to visit his wife Emily (also fictional), one of the imprisoned women. News of their treatment leaks to the media after she secretly passes a letter to him during the visit. Paul, Burns, and all of the other women are released.

Further pressure is put on Wilson as the NAWSA joins in the NWP call for a nineteenth amendment to the Constitution. Finally he accedes to the pressure, rather than be called out in the international press for fighting for democracy in Europe while denying its benefits to half of the U.S. population. Ratification follows in the states, reaching a climax when Harry T. Burn, a member of the Tennessee legislature, receives a telegram from his mother at the last minute and changes his vote, such that the amendment is ratified.

Origin of title

The film derives its title from Massachusetts Representative Joseph Walsh, who in 1917 opposed the creation of a committee to deal with women's suffrage. Walsh thought the creation of a committee would be yielding to "the nagging of iron-jawed angels" and referred to the Silent Sentinels as "bewildered, deluded creatures with short skirts and short hair."[3]


Fictional characters

Fictional characters in the film are Ben Weissman, his child, Emily Leighton, and Tom Leighton.[6][7]


Critical response

Film critic Richard Roeper of Ebert & Roeper gave the film a positive review, writing: "Iron Jawed Angels is an important history lesson told in a fresh, and blazing fashion."[8] Scott Faundas of Variety gave the film a negative review, writing: "HBO's starry suffragette drama, Iron Jawed Angels, latches on to a worthy historical subject and then hopes noble intentions will be enough to carry the day. Alas, there's no such luck in this talky, melodramatic overview of the dawn of equal rights for women in America. Gussied up with a comically anachronistic use of period music on the soundtrack and flashy, MTV-style montage sequences, pic misguidedly strives – but ultimately fails – to belie its instincts as an assembly-line movie-of-the-week."[9]

Robert Pardi of TV Guide gave a mixed review: "All the elements for a splendid film about the early days of the women's rights are in place, but director Katja von Garnier's use of distracting cinematic trickery and jarringly modern music meshes poorly with the period setting... Blessed with a flawless physical production, von Garnier distorts her epic tale with music that belongs on a Lilith Fair tour; it sometimes feels as though she and her writers conceived the fight for women's suffrage as a 1912 version of Sex and the City. Only when the anachronisms finally subside in the film's final third is the moving core is allowed to shine."[10]


The film was nominated for five awards at 56th Primetime Emmy Awards, though none of which were won; three awards at the 62nd Golden Globe Awards, winning one; and two awards at the 9th Golden Satellite Awards, winning one. Anjelica Huston won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film and the Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film for her performance in the film.

Year Award Category Recipient Result
2004 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Casting for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Special Janet Hirshenson, Jane Jenkins, Liz Marks, Kathleen Chopin Nominated
Outstanding Cinematography for a Miniseries or a Movie Robbie Greenberg Nominated
Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Special Caroline Harris, Eric Van Wagoner, Carl Curnutte III Nominated
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie Anjelica Huston Nominated
Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie, or a Dramatic Special Sally Robinson, Eugenia Bostwick-Singer, Raymond Singer, Jennifer Friedes Nominated
Casting Society of America Best Casting for TV Movie of the Week Janet Hirshenson, Jane Jenkins, Liz Marks Nominated
Humanitas Prize 90 Minute or Longer Category Sally Robinson, Eugenia Bostwick-Singer, Raymond Singer, Jennifer Friedes Nominated
OFTA Television Award Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture or Miniseries Anjelica Huston Nominated
Best Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture or Miniseries Brooke Smith Nominated
Best Actress in a Motion Picture or Miniseries Hilary Swank Nominated
Best Motion Picture Made for Television Iron Jawed Angels Nominated
2005 Golden Globe Award Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Anjelica Huston Won
Best Miniseries or Television Film Iron Jawed Angels Nominated
Best Actress – Miniseries or Television Film Hilary Swank Nominated
American Society of Cinematographers Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in Movies of the Week/Mini-Series/Pilot (Basic or Pay) Robbie Greenberg Won
Screen Actors Guild Award Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie Hilary Swank Nominated
Satellite Award Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film Anjelica Huston Won
Best Miniseries or Television Film Iron Jawed Angels Nominated
PEN Center USA West Literary Award Teleplay Sally Robinson, Eugenia Bostwick-Singer, Raymond Singer, Jennifer Friedes Won
Costume Designers Guild Award Outstanding Period/Fantasy Television Series Caroline Harris Nominated

See also


  1. "Interview with Paul Fischer at the Sundance Film Festival in 2004". Film Monthly.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "HOUSE MOVES FOR WOMAN SUFFRAGE; Adopts by 181 to 107 Rule to Create a Committee to Deal with the Subject. DEBATE A HEATED ONE Annoyance of President by Pickets at White House Denounced as "Outlawry."". The New York Times. September 25, 1917.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Skipper, Elizabeth (November 1, 2004). "Review of Iron-Jawed Angels". DVD Verdict. I also noticed Molly Parker as the supporting character of Emily Leighton, a Senator's wife. Parker's character – a fabricated figure, we learn from the commentary.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. DVD Verdict: In this movie, Alice is given a fledgling romance with political cartoonist Ben Weissman. According to the audio commentary, he is another completely fictional character, created to give Alice a (sort of) love interest.
  6. "Iron Jawed Angels: Characters". Iron Jawed Angels Media Smarts. Retrieved March 21, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "DVD Verdict Review - Iron Jawed Angels". DVD Verdict. November 1, 2004. Retrieved March 21, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Iron Jawed Angels Review". TV Plex. February 17, 2004.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Review: 'Iron Jawed Angels'". Variety. January 22, 2004.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Iron Jawed Angels Review". TV Guide. Retrieved October 25, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links