Director: Sarah Gavron. Cast: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham-Carter, Anne-Marie Duff, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson and Meryl Streep. Genre: Period Drama. Running Time: 106 mins. Certificate: UK (12A), USA (PG-13)
The UK has many dark corners in its history which it would prefer to keep well under wraps but thankfully Suffragette lifts the lid on one of the nation’s most ugliest and immoral periods.
Before 1918, the male dominated society meant that women weren’t entitled to vote until a radical group of frustrated ladies – labelled suffragettes – used both peaceful and violent protests to enforce change. Suffragette tells the story of how a group of the movement’s foot soldiers kick started the revolution for equality.
Set in 1912, the grimness of the East London setting reflects the grimness of women’s social standing at the time.
The film stars Carey Mulligan (Drive) as Maud Watts, a 24 year old married mother of one who humbly works in a laundry with sweatshop-like conditions. Aware of the rising number of women protesting to make a change, she initially doesn’t want to join the movement as she fears the retribution that might fall on her and her family.
After witnessing an all too familiar injustice at work and being persuaded to get involved by co-worker Violet (Shameless’ Anne Marie-Duff), Maud starts to realise how important her participation to the movement really is.
Gradually we see her get more and more wrapped up in the cause which puts her at odds with her disapproving husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw –Q in Skyfall), her loathsome laundrette manager Norman Taylor (Geoff Bell) and her neighbours.
Led by the militant Edith (Helena Bonham-Carter), Maud and her fellow fed-up newfound friends embark on tough and gruelling journey to bring change which sees them face the violent side of the police, prison time, hunger strikes and public villainy. Meanwhile the dogged Inspector Steed (Brendan Gleeson) is hot on the ladies trail and determined to put a stop to their mission.
Director Sarah Gavron does an excellent job of balancing the necessary politically-driven scenes with the quieter scenes of great emotional weight. The harsh extremes that Maud goes through effectively display her resilience and dedication to the cause. While these scenes could have explored the brutality the suffragettes faced in harder-hitting fashion, they still successfully demonstrate the lengths these women were willing to go.
Maud’s tender and touching moments with her young son George show the sacrifices she’s prepared to make in a couple of heart-breaking scenes.
Maud is the heart and soul of everything as Carey Mulligan’s subtle performance elevates the entire film. She doesn’t try to exhibit how much of a good actress she is with melodrama and hysterics. Instead she offers a natural, realistic and honest portrayal of a woman who just wants to see equality.
She’s backed up by some wonderful supporting performances which greatly benefit the film. Helena Bonham-Carter is utterly convincing as the chemist by day/bomb maker by night who leads the local movement.
Anne-Marie Duff is also excellent as the gutsy Violet who has a very interesting arc throughout.
Both Ben Whishaw and Brendan Gleeson play their respective roles of the bewildered husband and the steely detective very well. It’s a credit to their nuanced performances and the way they were penned by writer Abi Morgan that they don’t come across as men who want to keep the opposite gender oppressed but men who just want to keep the peace.
Meryl Streep delivers an inspirational speech as the head of the whole suffragette movement, Emmeline Pankhurst, but her very brief appearance seems contradictory to the film’s marketing which suggested she would be a prominent figure in the film and may annoy those wanting to see more of the legendary actress.
Morgan’s script and Gavron’s direction always builds a rising sense of tension and momentum that culminates in the pulse-pounding climax which sees the sad and shocking event that helped the nation take the suffragettes seriously. Those who know their history will be fully aware of what happens but will still feel the moving impact of what transpires.
Considering she played such a big role in the finish, Natalie Press’s Emily Davidson could have done with a bit more screen time which would have further hit home just how massive made her contribution to the cause was.
Some viewers may also feel somewhat unsatisfied with the film as the suffragette movement as a whole is not addressed and the ending offers no clear resolution to the issue although these factors didn’t bother me personally.
Still despite some minor flaws, Suffragette is an eye-opening, powerful political period drama which rightfully reminds us just how socially f’ed up the country once was. With an on form cast, straight to the point direction and a critically vital message, it’s a film that has huge cultural relevance. Suffragette scores a:
Check out the trailer here: