SUFFRAGETTE (UK | France/12A/106mins)
Directed by Sarah Gavron. Starring Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Marie Duff, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw
THE PLOT: In London of 1912, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) finds herself drawn out of her quiet life with her husband and child, and into the struggle of the women campaigning for the vote, and in the process, loses everything.
THE VERDICT: The story of women struggling for universal suffrage is one that greatly effected the world that we live in today but, although Suffragette is well acted and produced, there are times when the audience can’t help but hanker for a more fluid film that would do this campaign justice.
Carey Mulligan is on fine form as Maud, a woman who finds herself drawn into the struggle, almost against her will, and loses everything in the process. Although she becomes oddly more gentrified as the film goes on, Mulligan carries the story ably and gives an unusually feisty and engaging performance. It’s great to see Helena Bonham Carter step away from the world of fantasy, and into a role of Edith Ellyn, a strong woman with the courage of her convictions, Anne Marie Duff as Violet is a force to be reckoned with and, although her presence lingers over the entire film, Meryl Streep is not really given a chance to be anything other than a cameo as Emmeline Pankhurst. Ben Wishaw does well as Maud’s husband Sonny, and Brendan Gleeson makes Inspector Arthur Steed a fully rounded and human character who upholds the law, even though he may not agree with it.
Screenwriter Abi Morgan, who previously brought us ‘Shame’ and ‘The Iron Lady’, seems to struggle slightly with the story for ‘Suffragette’. Telling the story through the eyes of an ordinary woman drawn into the struggle, rather than the known name of Emmeline Pankhurst, is a strong move, and one that works for the film. Watching the character’s entire life – her home, her son, her husband, her job – stripped away from her hammers home the sacrifices these women made for what they believed to be right, but the film struggles as soon as it widens its scope from Maud Watts into the rest of the cast. Emmeline Pankhurst appears only once, Helena Bonham Carter’s character becomes quickly radicalised and Anne Marie Duff’s character seems to give up too easily.
As director, Sarah Gavron – whose last film, the documentary ‘Village at the End of the World’ played at the London Film Festival in 2012 – struggles to put all of these worthy pieces together in an engaging and coherent manner. Important scenes seem to be just skimmed over, while smaller – and admittedly endearing scenes – are given too much prominence. It’s as though Gavron believed we know this story, but some parts needed to be hammered home hard. As well as this, the pacing is messy, making the film seem longer than it is, and the ending point seems to have been deliberately done so the film wraps up with a whimper, rather than a bang.
In all, ‘Suffragett’e takes an interesting angle on the issue of women’s suffrage in England, and focusing on a lesser known character gave the film space to examine the impact the campaign had on the poor and uneducated women who stood up for what was right. The performances are strong, but many of the characters are not given a chance to develop. This, combined with messy pacing, turns ‘Suffragette’ from a fascinating film into a mild curiosity.
Rating: 3/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Review by Brogen Hayes
  • filmbuff2011

    A century ago, the English legal system didn’t regard women as people. It’s therefore no surprise to learn that they were denied crucial voting rights, unlike their male counterparts. This led to the rise of the Suffragette Movement, who campaigned vociferously for a woman’s equal right to vote and decide the future course of their country. Sarah Gavron’s film Suffragette is admittedly long overdue, telling a story that is as relevant today as it was a century ago. Set in 1912, Maud (Carey Mulligan) has been working in an East End laundry since she was a child. A hard worker, mother to a little boy and a wife to Sonny (Ben Whishaw), she witnesses Suffragettes throwing bricks at a shop window. Curious, she’s drawn into the inner circle of the Suffragettes by co-worker and friend Violet (Anne-Marie Duff), where she’s also introduced to unit leader Edith (Helena Bonham Carter). The course of the movement has changed. Suffragette figurehead Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep, in just one but pivotal scene) is inciting women across the country to commit acts of civil disobedience, to force the Government to give them the right to vote. As Maud becomes more involved and even goes to jail, the personal cost on her family life becomes even greater. Determined Detective Inspector Steed (Brendan Gleeson) is on her trail too, urging her to think of the serious consequences of her actions… There’s no doubting that Suffragette is an honourable film. It takes a ground-level view of the Suffragette cause, from the perspective of working class women whose voices were too often silenced by the men in their lives. Gavron and writer Abi Morgan (Shame, The Iron Lady) could have gone down the route of telling Pankhurst’s story, but by telling this story she gives it a greater sense of immediacy. It’s women like Maud who will value the vote far more than anyone else. But the motivations and purposes of the Suffragettes come across a little shadowy and Gavron seems unsure of how to handle this on a narrative level. When Edith and Maud talk of blowing up a minister’s supposedly empty country home or cutting lines of Government communication, we might think of them now as terrorists. One man’s terrorist is another woman’s freedom fighter. That’s a weighty label for activists whose actions speak louder than words, but who also wanted to ensure that nobody would get hurt. Well, somebody almost got hurt. Hmm… It’s a rather drab film too – with some questionable lighting choices. There’s no faulting the acting – Mulligan brings a firm level of conviction to Maud, as the personal cost of her actions become ever greater, making her voice stand-out. By the end, she’s quite a different character – stronger, more resolute, more independent. Gleeson brings that same level of determination to his copper, who also has his own firm beliefs in the power and reasoning of the law. It’s interesting to note the level of police surveillance on the Suffragettes too. Suffragette ends on a powerful coda, noting that the fight for a woman’s right to vote still rages on in some parts of the world a century later. A lot done, more to do. That could also be applied to this film. It’s an admirable attempt to shine a light on a lesser-known period of 20th Century history. However, this reviewer can’t help but feel that there is a better film waiting in the wings for that Oscar-worthy moment in the limelight. ***

  • Randy

    While there are cliches to the film, its strength comes from solid performances across the board, especially by Mulligan as a woman who is unwittingly swept into the battle for women’s rights. There’s the elite women who peacefully attempt to lobby the government to gain the vote and then there are the more militant Suffragettes. Ultimately it is the violent acts that get noticed. Although I was familiar with many events depicted in the film, I wasn’t any less involved and taken in with their struggles. The handheld style, as opposed to laziness which characterizes most modern-day films, adds immediacy and grittiness. The film is cinema at its best – absorbing and visceral and reminds us that the fight for equality is still very much alive and we still have very far to go. 4/5