FILM REVIEW: Suffragette
Director Sarah Gavron | Starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter,
Anne-Marie Duff, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Meryl Streep
Certificate 12A | In cinemas 12.10.15.
Before you read this review, I’ll be frank from the offset; English period drama is not my preferred genre. That being said, an inventive approach to an important story, coupled with excellent performances from the supporting cast, saw that I appreciated Suffragette, and would not rule out watching it again.
Remote as it may be from the lives of today’s cinema-goers, Suffragette‘s world of a poor young laundress in the early 20th Century is not too difficult for audiences to imagine. We’ve all seen similar scenes before in film, television and literature. Yet this reviewer found herself barred from entry to the film’s mythical immersion by the continual reminder that we are not watching the struggling washerwoman Maude Watts on the screen – we are watching Carey Mulligan, whose attempts at a cockney accent are insufficient to transform her into a woman from another class and time. Nevertheless, Mulligan’s failure to convince me as an individual need not detract from Suffragette‘s virtues.
As a whole, Suffragette is a cohesive, well paced patchwork of cinematic set pieces, heart-tugging vignettes, and quotes good enough to be carved in stone.
Scenes between Maude and her young son George, for example, convey a genuine warmth which will have even the most steely hearted of viewers holding back the tears. These low key moments are perhaps Suffragette‘s greatest strength; by appealing to our humanity, they force us to empathise with the hardships and ostracisation that these humble women were forced to face for the cause of women’s suffrage.
The wonderful Anne-Marie Duff deserves an honourable mention, for delivering a faultless performance as Maude’s fellow laundry worker turned Suffragette recruiter Violet, so perfectly convincing in her lines, looks, and mannerisms. Whether smashing shop windows or picking herself up from horrific domestic abuse, Duff’s Violet maintains an almost imperceptible, yet irresistibly captivating glint in her eye, bringing to life a character who is always sympathetic, but never weak.
The film’s nuanced treatment of male supporting characters also deserves recognition. Maude’s husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw) is ultimately a decent man, albeit one who feels inhibited by the gender expectations of his time, and who must act accordingly. Inspector Arthur Steed (Brendan Gleeson) secretly opposes the brutal treatment of women protesters, but feels his primary responsibility to be upholding the law. It is this subtle use of light and shade by screenwriter Abi Morgan which really elevates Suffragette above the ranks of an ordinary ‘historical’ film to be shown in classrooms.
On the subject of history, Suffragette ends on a questionably political note, by listing countries around the world with the year in which they gave women the vote. By highlighting recent acquisitions, and non-acquisitions, of female suffrage in non-Western countries, the film passes a reductive comparison of disparate cultures which is not entirely necessary. Considered alongside the controversial ‘I’d rather be a rebel than a slave’ photoshoot that the film’s stars recently posed for in London’s TimeOut, this addition may leave certain viewers feeling slightly uncomfortable.
Suffragette opens in the UK on 12 October and in the US on 23 October.
Read our Q&A with Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan, Sarah Gavron and Abi Morgan here.