Sponsor

New Release Review - SUFFRAGETTE

A young woman is caught up in Britain's suffragette movement.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Sarah Gavron

Starring: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep, Ben Whishaw, Romola Garai, Brendan Gleeson, Anne-Marie Duff




"Suffragette follows the template of the many quasi-feminist exploitation movies released by American International in the early '70s. Add a bluegrass score and Pam Grier, and this could have been directed by Jonathan Demme in 1971; and it's all the better for it."





Sometimes it's hard to be a woman. Scratch that; it's always hard to be a woman. If the historians are to be believed, it wasn't always this way. In many ancient civilisations, women had parity with men when it came to their roles in society. Then along came religion, keeping women subjugated for the past couple of millennia. Have we made progress? Some, but far from enough. In too many parts of the world, women are forced to wear veils, forbidden from indulging in such frivolities as driving cars and riding bicycles. Even in the so-called progressive West, many countries deny women the option of an abortion. Yet we take women's position for granted today; no wonder it took so long for a movie celebrating Britain's suffragette movement to hit screens.
I know what you're thinking; Suffragette is just a cynical bid for an Oscar, or at least a BAFTA, but Sarah Gavron's film eschews the usual bland biopic format. A truly cynical filmmaker would have opted to simply tell the story of suffragette figurehead Emmeline Pankhurst - who pops up here in a cameo in the form of Meryl Streep - most likely boring us all to tears in the process. Instead we're thrust into the coalface of the women's movement in the form of a fictional creation - Carey Mulligan's Maude Watts, a worker at a gruelling London laundry. Employed there since the age of 14, it's suggested that Maude has endured sexual abuse at the hands of her employer, but keeps her head down and gets on with her work. Who would listen anyway? She's only a woman. A fellow worker, Violet (Anne Marie Duff) is beginning to question the sexist status quo however. Violet's fallen in with the suffragettes, an outlawed group of women carrying out a campaign of civil disobedience across the city in an attempt to force the government to give women the vote, and introduces Maude to her local chapter, run by middle class chemist Edith Elleyn (Helena Bonham Carter, whose great grandfather, H H Asquith, was Britain's Prime Minister at the time!). It's not long before Maude is filled with revolutionary zeal, standing up to her predatory boss, bombing post-boxes and losing her child in the process, all the while under the watchful gaze of Brendan Gleeson's Steed, the policeman assigned with destroying the suffragettes.
Suffragette has two elements often lacking in British period drama - energy and passion. Much of its narrative follows the template of the many quasi-feminist exploitation movies released by American International in the early '70s. You have a sweet-faced (Mulligan is impossibly fresh for someone who spent the last 10 years working in a turn of the century laundry), innocent protagonist who finds her inner warrior through joining a gang of tough women, unafraid to sock it to the man. You have two types of men; complete misogynist scumbags in need of violent comeuppance, and 'nice guys', equally guilty through inaction. We even get the obligatory scene in which our heroines are stripped of their clothes on entry to prison. Add a bluegrass score and Pam Grier, and this could have been directed by Jonathan Demme in 1971; and it's all the better for it.
The problem Gavron faces of course is that this is based, to a degree, on real events, so at times it feels like she's attempting to squeeze square pegs into round holes in turning the timeline of the true events into a three act narrative. As such, the film ends in jarringly undramatic fashion, as life itself so often tends to. There are many sequences that feel as though they've been cut short, Gavron escalating tension only for a scene to abruptly end. By cinematic standards, the suffragettes didn't do a whole lot we would consider dramatic - this isn't Baader Meinhof we're dealing with - but Gavron and screenwriter Abi Morgan ramp up the action so much that ultimately you're disappointed when the film doesn't climax with an explosive raid on some complex full of gun-wielding misogynists. By the time the credits roll, we're fuming with anger at society, and given no release by the film, maybe it's right we should take it out of the multiplex and onto the streets.



discussion by