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Suffragette – Movie Review

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Suffragette – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

With all of the rallying for equal rights in this day and age, we are likely to get many films about historical events that led to important bills and laws being passed. Suffragette is just the latest of these and it does a decent job of depicting the fight for women’s voting rights in 1912 England. The material and time span of the suffragette movement is an admittedly large one and it’s probably tricky to condense all of that into an hundred minute running time. To fully explore the subject, a mini-series would probably have gone more in-depth. However, director Sarah Gavron and screenwriter Abi Morgan make the smart decision to merely focus on a composite of multiple women who fought in this activist campaign.

Sarah Gavron doesn’t shy away from the dirty and sweaty business of launderettes of the time period. It doesn’t become hard to like Maud, while also understanding why she continues to work in this less than desirable job. Most importantly, we see her love for her husband and son and how that drives her to keep working every day. When the suffragettes start throwing rocks at windows and bombing post boxes, it’s made very clear by the filmmakers this is not the proper solution to fight for equality. While it proves unsuccessful shortly afterwards, it’s likely a statement made to a board of politicians had more impact on whether women should vote rather than acts of violence. The head figure of the movement, Emmeline Pankhurst is mostly off-screen and seems almost uninvolved in the action. Thus, Suffragette becomes more about the average working-class woman fighting for these rights.

The film is almost careful in its portrayal of the men thrust into this new form of activism. Yes, there are the few men (including the boisterous launderette boss) who are completely opposed and disgusted by the idea of women voting. However, Abi Morgan’s screenplay makes a real effort to show other points of view. Brendan Gleeson’s Inspector is in that situation of understanding their want for voting privileges, while not looking away when they commit genuine crimes. His idea is if women want equal rights as men, they should also be given the proper jail time for window breaking and their other illegal activities. Maud’s husband could have easily been written as a straw man, but the film makes clear his position is not out of dislike for his wife, but rather for the need to provide for his family. He’s stuck with a difficult decision and that makes a later scene genuinely emotional.

Gavron does overdo it with the camera work as it becomes shaky to the point of incomprehensible in some scenes. Thus, there are points that should be more brutal than they’re actually filmed. The acting is fairly solid across the board. Far from the Madding Crowd still remains Carey Mulligan’s standout performance this year, but she does decent work as Maud. Helena Bonham Carter gives a more subtle performance than we’re accustomed from her, recalling her lovely work in The King’s Speech, though this is a very different character than the Queen Mother. Meryl Streep’s single scene as Pankhurst seems to merely exist to give the film a bit more star power and help with its performance in North America. It’s a part that could have been given to any veteran British stage actress.

Suffragette only scratches the surface of what entailed in the title movement and this is even shown with the end titles revealing that the fight for women’s rights went on far longer than the events depicted. However, as an overview of when it started to really take head, Sarah Gavron more than handles the task. If it makes one decide to explore further the historical context and real events, then it will have accomplished something. It is a decently directed film, but one almost craves for the suffragette movement to get a longer portrait and one imagines there will be multiple documentaries made on the subject. As a dramatization, Suffragette gets the job done.

Stefan Ellison

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