Starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Brenden Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Anne-Marie Duff, Meryl Streep
Fall is the time when weather temperatures cool down, but it’s also the time for Oscar contenders, when the caliber of movie releases heats up. Admittedly after the superb “Suffragette” trailer dropped back in the summer, it became one of the seasons most anticipated players. Written, directed, produced and mainly starring only women, in a story about a pivotal point in women’s history; “Suffragette’s” power must have been hidden behind that “Landslide” song in the tear-jerking trailer. It’s still an important film even without as much character development as it deserved. It’s a history lesson and a good reminder about the struggle for progress and work still to be done.
Since age seven Maude Watts (Mulligan) has worked in the local East London laundry factory, a job she admits doesn’t create a long life for the employees. Now 24, married with a son, Maude continues to endure sexual abuse at the hands of her manager, unsafe work conditions, and unequal pay to male co-workers. Through a series of unintended consequences Maude ends up joining the Women’s Vote Group, demanding laws be changed to give rights to women. It’s 1912 and the leader of the Suffragette party Emmeline Pankhurst (Streep) has now encouraged civil disobedience since quietly and calmly asking for change hasn’t delivered results. Maude becomes the newest face in the movement, but this costs her job, her husband (Whishaw) and ultimately her son.
We see too many prison scenes, bombings and other acts of civil disobedience, at the expense of character development.
The biggest problem with the screenplay by Abi Morgan (“The Iron Lady”) is divergence from the guts of the story. We see too many prison scenes, bombings and other acts of civil disobedience, at the expense of character development. Mulligan is a fantastic actress, in what should been a slam dunk performance, only has one big scene in which she makes the circumstances very clear to an unsympathetic Brenden Gleeson (“Harry Potter, “Calvery”). Mulligan’s performance in “Far From the Madding Crowd” earlier this year (about another strong woman, coming to power in a man’s world) easily trumps this one. Morgan and director Sarah Gavron lose sight of the people in the story in their zeal to create ethos for the suffragette.
In one scene non-fictional character Edith Ellyn (Carter), who makes bombs in the back of her pharmacy, is locked in a closet by her husband to prevent her from leaving the house. It’s another missed opportunity to develop major characters, instead of showing Ellyn’s defeat, rage or whatever response she might have given, the film simply cuts to another scene of Maude living in an abandon church. Scenes of fictional character Maude trying to be a good mother while standing up for her rights are the films strongest. As another historical film “Stonewall” brutally learned earlier in the season, mixing fact and fiction in one story is difficult. “Suffragette” certainly fares better but sadly hopes of this becoming a champion during awards season are squashed when the film decides not to include any emotional pay off at the end, leaving the audience with uninspired historical text before the credits.
Not the emotional powerhouse of cinema and performance I had hoped for.