Director: Sarah Gavron.
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Natalie Press, Anne-Marie Duff, Romola Garai, Ben Whishaw, Brendan Gleeson.
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Much like the civil rights movement or the present drive for marriage equality, it is bewildering that there was a time when such things were necessary to overcome a legal form of discrimination and government-ordained inequity.
In the case of women’s suffrage, it is downright bizarre that there was ever time when the female of the species was not allowed to vote.
As such, Suffragette deals with important issues and events that, although they took centre stage a century ago, are still unfortunately relevant today, as women continue to fight against inequality, discrimination and harassment.
Part-fiction, part-fact, the film has Mulligan’s Maud Watts as our window into the suffragettes’ world. Initially happily married to Sonny (Wishaw), she is a doting mother who works as a laundress – a demanding and dangerous job.
Slowly she is drawn into the suffrage movement, almost by accident, as she witnesses women performing acts of civil disobedience to raise awareness to their cause.
Maud also begins to talk to her friends and discovers many of them are suffragettes, pulling her further into their world as she begins to weigh up what she is willing to sacrifice for a greater good.
As mentioned before, Suffragette deals with important issues and is suitably solemn. Its biggest downfall is it boils these issues and their historical context down into an overly straightforward plot, ditching any complexity for an awkward simplicity.
Thankfully the cast is top-notch and the characters are compelling. Mulligan is excellent as she grows from wide-eyed naif to strident suffragette, Bonham Carter gives a typically seamless turn, and Press, Duff and Garai are also great as women fighting their own battles amid a bigger war.
Also good are the men. Wishaw and Gleeson both play fascinating characters – the former as a confused husband struggling to understand and deal with his wife’s decisions and the latter as a policeman struggling with his own moral code. Perhaps Gleeson’s character could have been better fleshed out, but it’s a strong performance nonetheless.
Although appearing on some posters, Streep’s turn as real-life suffrage leader Emmeline Pankhurst is a mere cameo, although it does help lend a mythic quality to the character.
On the technical side, the film is fine, if given to an over-reliance on shaky handheld shots more than is necessary. But generally Gavron’s direction is solid, as she paces the story gradually and builds to a satisfying and powerful ending, aided by a strong score from Alexandre Desplat.
As an introduction into the world of suffragettes, the film is good, but feels like an over-simplified take on an important issue.