Director: Sarah Gavron
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham-Carter, Meryl Streep, Anne-Marie Duff, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Romola Garai
Written by: Abi Morgan
Running Time: 106 mins
Release date: 12th October 2015
It’s surprising that there has never been a film about the Suffragette movement of the early 20th Century before. In fact the only time I can remember it even appearing in a film is Mary Poppins. These strong women took on a government, a central idea and over time, won the chance to vote. This film concentrates, not only on those events but how one woman accidentally gets caught up in the whole proceedings and becomes an important factor.
Maud Watts is an ordinary, hard-working mother, desperate to supply for her son by slaving away in a sweat house for a misogynist boss. One of her fellow workers, Violet, is heavily involved in the suffragette movement, desperate to swing the changes of power by winning the vote. When Violet asks Maud to escort her to meet the Prime Minister, Maud must speak on her behalf, which leads her into a world of unnecessary violence, constant probing from the police and the slow destruction of her marriage and the loss of her son. Yet Maud has become passionate about the cause and will stop at nothing to achieve their goal.
Sarah Gavron’s film certainly has plenty of passion, wanting to show this society what women went through to give them a sense of freedom in a time where it was a man’s world. It doesn’t set out to lecture, instead by following one woman’s journey into this world, it makes the events of 1912 and beyond far more poignant, especially when her own husband cannot support the idea that his wife is, in most men’s eyes, a terrorist.
The production values are incredibly high, with locations carefully chosen from the streets of London, to the detailed costumes, giving the film a feeling of complete authenticity. Where, I feel, the film loses itself is the incredibly shaky camerawork. This is a film in which important historical matters are expressed and dealt with, a task difficult enough without the hinderance of cinematography that is sometimes impossible to watch. I liked the fact that the film stock was grainy, giving it an earthy feel but some scenes were hard to watch, not because of the content but because of feeling motion sickness.
That aside, the performances from a first-rate cast is impeccable. Meryl Streep makes a brief yet perfectly formed appearance as the leader of the suffragette movement, Emily Pankhurst, while the male leads, Brendan Gleeson as the policeman who is on the case of these women and Ben Whishaw as Maud’s husband, are terrific in minor yet important roles.
The film’s winning goal is having the ladies take the limelight. Helena Bonham Carter excels as a radical doctor who uses her clinic as a base for the movement, while Anne-Marie Duff should get greater attention now as Violet, the strong-willed woman who is determined to push forward with winning the vote. In the lead and once again showing her versatility, is the brilliant Carey Mulligan, who is slowly becoming the go-to actress for more diverse and interesting roles. Starting off as a shy, retiring woman who doesn’t want any trouble, she blossoms into an intricate foot soldier for the movement, willing to sacrifice everything she has for the cause. It is a first class performance from a first-class actress.
Often moving and shocking, the scene in which the police storm the group after hearing they haven’t won the case is particularly unnerving, Suffragette should have award winner stamped all over it, yet by trying to update the film with shaky cam, it took away the impact of the story. It is an important film to see, especially if you don’t know too much about women’s rights and you will be horrified as to how long it has taken some countries to give women the vote (a caption sequence at the end of the film shares that information) just be prepared for a jolting ride.