Suffragette: Film Review
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Ben Whishaw, Anne-Marie Duff, Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep, Brendan Gleeson
Director: Sarah Gavron
There's no disputing the Suffragette's movement was a vital one.
But in the hands of Gavron and writer Abi Morgan (The Hour, The Iron Lady), the film version of the growth of the movement feels didactic and as washed out as the grey palettes employed in the visual execution.
In 1912 London, Mulligan plays Maud Watts, one of the early foot soldiers of the movement, but who's more a soldier of chance than of deliberate stance. Working at a local laundry and duly handing in wages to her husband (Whishaw), Maud one day finds herself in the middle of the growing civil unrest instigated by Emmeline Pankhurst.
With her interest inadvertently piqued initially in the movement, Watts is dismissive of what's going on and remains a passive viewer. But when tensions begin to escalate at home, she becomes more involved in the fight for equal rights.
Suffragette is a misfire in many ways.
It fails to really get to the core of what makes the movement so powerful and gives us a lead that would rather view what's going on while all around lecture her. Equally, it doesn't help that Gavron's characters outside of the trio of women are so caricature. All men are bad and therefore badly portrayed with such a broad brush that the message threatens to be lost in the cinematic execution.
Conflict at Watts' home is so obviously signposted that it's never a surprise when it shows and the only real surprise is how dire it gets; this is a film which is never anywhere but in the women's corner, firmly entrenched in their camp and their fight.
In among the shaky cam and Mulligan's Watts' passive viewing of events (her character spends most of the film as an impassive viewer, rather than willing participant), there's also cliched dialogue rolled out over the law not being respectable to women; but there are moments that shine. Chiefly Brendan Gleeson's investigating copper brings a compassionate tone to proceedings, casting doubt over treatments and offering some hope for men at large.
Streep's appearance amounts to little more than a cameo as Pankhurst addressing a rally and Bonham-Carter seems to have wandered off the set of Sweeney Todd with her turn.
While Suffragette clearly wants to pass on a powerful message, its execution is muddled and mired in its intentions. It is perhaps telling the only moment to garner any emotion in the screening was when New Zealand appeared top of a list of nations that granted women the vote in 1893 - and the real footage is rolled out from events of the movement.
Sometimes, a true story needs only the simplest of executions to soar; sadly Suffragette misses with every moment and fails to add to the legacy of the suffragette movement.