Director: Sarah Gavron
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson, Anne-Marie Duff, Grace Stolor, Geoff Bell
Runtime: 1 hr 47 mins
Rating: PG13 (Brief Coarse Language)
Released By: Shaw
Opening Day: 31 December 2015
Synopsis: SUFFRAGETTE is an intense drama that tracks the story of the foot soldiers of the early feminist movement, women who were forced underground to pursue a dangerous game of cat and mouse with an increasingly brutal State. Fighting for the right to vote, these women were not only from the genteel educated classes, there were working women among them who had seen peaceful protest achieve nothing. Radicalised and turning to violence as the only route to change, they were willing to lose everything in their fight for equality - their jobs, their homes, their children and their lives. MAUD was one such foot soldier. The story of her fight for dignity is both heart-breaking and inspirational.
Movies about historical movements to overcome injustices often suffer from becoming an exercise in complacency, reflecting on injustices of the past from a position of moral high ground as audiences are taken through a morality play that shakes its head at how terrible things were and how much better they are now.
Once in a while though, there comes a movie that escapes that fate and manages to humanise the movement while making the audience realise that injustices exist regardless of the era we are in and we are not necessarily better than our forefathers.
Unfortunately, Suffragette is not one of those movies.
That doesn’t mean it is a bad movie. It is a polished and well-intentioned movie which is hard to dislike. However, its neatness is precisely what makes it hard for audiences to connect completely with the movie. A well-packaged film that moves along well enough, Suffragette is serious about its material but it doesn’t get your blood pumping or your heart racing even as you watch the women fight for their rights even if you are a woman (like I am) and should be able to relate more easily to the suffering of the characters.
Mind you, it’s not because of poor acting either. Carey Mulligan does an admirable portrayal of a downtrodden East End laundry lady who finds herself the reluctant heroine in the movement. As 24-year old Maud Watts, Mulligan’s role is that the amalgam of the different women involved in the movement and serves as the guide to the audience to the women’s movement. Mulligan puts in a fine performance as she convinces you that Maud’s awakened sense of righteousness can be easily snuffed out when she is placed in prison for a week for acting on that sense of righteousness. Helena Bonham Carter also puts in a fine performance as Edith Ellyn, the one ‘soldier’ who is the most frighteningly committed to the cause.
While the movie humanises the women and the female characters are carefully thought-out rich personalities with clear motives driving, the male characters are pretty much the opposite. They are one-dimensional characters whose presence serves mainly as a counterfoil to the female characters. The men who do not support the cause are either ignorant fools or are narrow-minded chauvinist pigs. This broad brush treatment is a great pity as the humanisation of these faceless foes would have enhanced the narrative and introduced new nuances to two sides of the struggles rather than cast them moralistically and somewhat blandly into either the ‘good’ camp or the ‘bad’ camp.
The set design and costume is well-done and brings one back in time to the relevant era. That, unfortunately, is also the issue with this movie. Against the current backdrop of issues on the treatment of women in the movie industry, such as the disparity in pay between female and male movie stars, and women gaining the rights to vote for the first time in some places, this film could have been extremely relevant and strike a chord with audiences. However, this movie, while well-done, fails to maximise its potential and comes across as a polished but bland historical drama watch through a self-righteous and moralistic retrospective filter.
(Suffragette hits the notes but fails to soar. Worth a watch for the good acting but don’t expect to go away feeling pumped for the women fighting the cause)
Review by Katrina Tee