Movie Review: Suffragette
The tale of the fight for British women’s right to vote, Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette focuses on the brutality and loss that came with earning that right one century ago. It isn’t hard to see how much passion was poured into the film. Nearly all of the cast, the director, and writer are women of British descent. The film readily sticks out among the zeitgeist of today’s movies focusing on gender and on top of this, the movie’s art direction and representation of all timely aspects are some of the best seen in any period movie in quite a while. Though it is buttressed by today’s societal issues, it has immense strength as a standalone movie.
The story’s protagonist, Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), is initially a hard-working laundry worker and housewife who un-questionably obeys the laws of 1912 London. However, the oppression of women is exceedingly apparent as well as those fighting it. When the uneducated Maud catches wind that she could live in a different world, she slowly undergoes a change. Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter) and Emily Davidson (Natalie Press), well-known suffragettes at the time, quietly recruit Maud into their ranks and through their hope, Maud transgresses the fear of being labeled “suffragette”. Unfortunately, it quickly becomes glaringly evident that Maud is going to have to sacrifice quite a bit. A crossroad is reached: easily accept the laws that make lower pay and molestation at work as a societal non issue, or risk life and everything she knows to hopefully achieve a better world for herself and future generations.
Gavron does a superb job of making the sights, sounds and smells of time-appropriate London come through. Carriages and cars line the busy and dusty streets during the day while the deserted nights give off a mischievous serenity. The setting isn’t the only noteworthy piece. The costumes do not go unnoticed, appropriate from the hair to the clothes themselves in every situation and societal role. For example, the interior of Maud’s home is ramshackle, telling the audience of her family’s struggles without explicitly doing so. Suffragette doesn’t make itself rely solely on dialogue to decorate the world due to it’s fantastic visual storytelling. The script itself may suffer from slight predictability, but the events of the film are so well done that this fault is forgivable.
Carey Mulligan delivers a strong performance. Perfectly illustrating Maud’s development from submissive worker to fiery rebel, the audience can sympathize with every victory and defeat along her journey. Mulligan shows her experience as an actor in this sense, being understated when called for and being explosive in moments of extreme emotional tension. Helena Bonham Carter and Natalie Davidson stick out as the characters they represent. Every actor is a well-versed professional, and their performances won’t leave you questioning their skills. Meryl Streep fans may be disappointed, however.
Playing the role of Emmeline Pankhurst, elusive leader of the suffrage movement, she does a fine job of the portrayal, however the legendary actress appears in all major ads and promos, she makes little more than what is truly only a cameo at one of the film’s multiple suffrage rallies.
Suffragette doesn’t unfairly paint the government as completely heartless, nor does it show the women to be saints. The audience is given a plain and fair perspective of all involved. This satisfying writing is paired with Savron’s attention to detail, recreating a world that evokes an overwhelming feeling of immersion.