Friday, October 23, 2015

Movie with Abe: Suffragette

Directed by Sarah Gavron
Released October 23, 2015

History is full of struggles for equal rights just waiting to be made into movies. In recent years, issues of gay marriage and the legal claims of partners rather than spouses have been front and center, and race, class, and gender have always existed. “Suffragette” hones in on a time a century ago in the United Kingdom where the fight for women’s rights to vote was just heating up. This dramatic tale chronicles an unsettling and inspiring chapter from that fight, picking a few prominent suffragettes as its protagonists to tell a greater and overarching story.

Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) is introduced as a mild-mannered twenty-four-year-old mother and wife who has worked in the same factory for half of her life. An innocent evening trip home results in her being present when suffragettes throw rocks at storefront windows in protest, frightening Maud but also piquing her curiosity. Before long, the sheepish young woman who has never spoken up for anything in her life becomes a dedicated member of the movement, alienating her embarrassed husband (Ben Wishaw) and nearly losing her son in the process, all the while catching the discerning eye of a police inspector, Steed (Brendan Gleeson), who has made it his mission to quell the disruptive female forces trying to win a voice.

There is no doubt that this struggle was a compelling one, and though women were granted the right to vote shortly after the events of this film in the United Kingdom, there are still major inequalities that exist in all countries related to gender. As such, this film, though its events take place about a hundred years ago, does feel relevant in its themes and content. Yet there is something missing that makes the film less effective overall, namely its focus on Maud and several surrounding events that might be representative of the suffragette movement but don’t seem to paint a complete picture.

This cast includes more than a few familiar faces, with the typically terrific Mulligan at its head. Here, she is soft-spoken and reserved, internalizing her emotions and then opening up as she begins to adopt the cause. While she has generated considerable Oscar buzz, this is not her sharpest or most evocative performance. Wishaw, Gleeson, Anne-Marie Duff, and Romola Garai do fine in the supporting cast, but it’s Helena Bonham Carter who stands out most as a spirited leader of the movement. Meryl Streep also makes the very most of her brief role as the famed head of the movement, Mrs. Pankhurst. This ensemble contributes to a perfectly decent film that stirs up the right kind of emotion but fails to fully deliver on them.


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