Director: Sarah Gavron
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Anne-Marie Duff, Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep
Please note, this review contains minor spoilers.
Suffragette is the dramatised true story of the women who took drastic, militant actions to try and get Votes for Women in the early 20th Century. The focus is on the hard-working Maud Watts (Mulligan) who, tired of the oppressive nature of her work, befriends her colleague Violet Miller (Duff) and becomes an enthusiastic member of the suffragette movement. Following instructions from the leader of the movement, Emmeline Pankhurst (Streep), the women are caught up in a violent game of cat and mouse with the authorities and the governments they are desperately trying to convince of their cause.
I was delighted to see that this film not only had an incredibly talented female cast, with some of the finest actresses at the moment, but also a female director (Gavron) and writer (Abi Morgan). With this type of story, and the strong focus on the oppression of women and their subsequent battle for equality, the female-drive behind the film itself is able to put this across in a very sensitive but yet hard-hitting manner. Naturally the focus is heavily on the women in this story, so “meninists” might not like this one, but tough luck!
The cast are the real star of Suffragette, and Anne-Marie Duff is particularly excellent. The trailer might make you think Meryl Streep plays a major role (which is undeniably true as she plays Pankhurst), however she is noticeably absent for most of the film. This works within the context of the storyline, and whilst I would have liked more Streep (because you can never have enough!), her scene was one of the real highlights. Her inspiring speech to the crowds of women was a real “fists in the air” moment; or maybe that was just me!
Parts of the film were incredibly hard-hitting as well; the scenes of police brutality, the force-feeding during their imprisonment, and of course the dramatic conclusion at the Epsom Derby. All of these were well shot and incredibly well acted. Mulligan in particular was excellent in some of the more emotional scenes, and one of the scenes involving her and her son was absolutely heartbreaking. Take some tissues!
The ending is beautifully done, with the footage of the film fading into some real footage of the women, and the epilogue is in equal parts inspiring and surprising, and a fitting end to the film.
It is mentioned very briefly in the prologue, but there was little mention otherwise of the suffragists and their contribution to the cause. Prior to the more militant actions of the suffragettes, the suffragists were lobbying and petitioning for the right to vote. Arguably, their actions were not strong enough to get them noticed, hence the rise of Pankhurst and the suffragettes, but I think this film could have benefited from more analysis as to why the shift had to happen. This would give a bit of background to the story and also would prompt the audience to consider both sides of the coin, and the valuable part both of them played in getting the vote. The part of the suffragists is played down so drastically, if you had no prior knowledge of the events, you might be lead to think they were completely ineffective, which isn’t necessarily the case.
It is difficult to tell the exact time frame, but this film seemed to focus on quite a short time period, and whilst there are plenty of big events that happen in the span of the film, at times it does get quite repetitive. The suffragettes plan an attack, they get arrested, they get released, they attack again, they’re arrested again…and on it goes. Drawing the focus away from the core group, perhaps featuring more of Pankhurst, or showing some of the government meetings could have helped to break up the monotony slightly.
Understandably the focus of the film is on the women, and this of course is incredibly important, however I would have liked to have seen just a little bit more about how the actions of the women affected their husbands and families. We see Watts’ husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw), and some of the effects his wife’s actions have on him, but perhaps showing more of the shame he felt and how this affected the relationships he had with his friends or colleagues, would have added that bit extra to their story.
I saw this movie and you should too. It’s not perfect, but if you’re looking for a powerful, well acted drama with a great cast and an inspiring message, then you’ll enjoy it. Vote with your feet and go and see Suffragette!
Agree with everything I’ve said, or am I a terribly misguided idiot who has got it all wrong? Please let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to share as well.