November 23-24: All libraries will be closed for the Thanksgiving holiday.
Film Review: Suffragette
The past few years, numerous films have been made about civil rights and the lack thereof. Selma brought us the story of African Americans, led by Martin Luther King Junior, fighting for the right to vote. Stonewall told the story of gay rights, as did Pride. Now we are presented with Suffragette, another film about rights, but this time as they pertain to women.
Suffragette stars Carey Mulligan as Maude Williams, a timid housewife in early 1900s England. She loves her husband and child George. She works everyday at a laundry. Maud is rather unremarkable and tries to stay that way. And it works for her, until the suffragettes, women demanding voting rights, start to involve themselves with her life. As they start speaking up, specifically around her place of work, Maud slowly gets sucked in more and more into the world of activism until she becomes a suffragette herself.
The standout piece of this film is the story. Heavily fact based, the atrocities suffered and committed by these women are unthinkable. They were beaten, jailed, force fed (through a tube inserted into their nose and down their esophagus), among other equally heinous things. They themselves would throw rocks at stores and blow up various things, all in the search of equality. It’s amazing, hard to believe, and true.
The acting was also terrific, Carey Mulligan specifically wonderful. She perfectly encapsulated her character’s emotional journey in every scene. Without her the film would not have been nearly as good as it turned out being. Helena Bonham Carter, whose character lead a group of suffragettes, was also quite good. She was a great foil for Carey Mulligan. Meryl Streep is also in this movie, that is for one scene. It annoys me that they plastered her across all of the posters and trailers for what amounts to no more than 7 minutes screen time, but she’s Meryl Streep. She does well with what she’s given.
A particularly interesting character was the chief inspector, played by Brendan Gleason. In a movie like this, it would have been easy to write off the villain as some evil sexist pig who loved to triumph over the women. Gleason goes a more interesting route luckily, giving his character real warmth and meaning. Just because his character’s job is to stop the suffragettes, he doesn’t seem to enjoy it, in fact he seems to sympathize with their cause. At one point in the film, he indicates that he agrees with their goals. But he knows it doesn’t matter what he thinks is wrong or right. His job is to uphold the law, however unjust it may be. It’s a real interesting choice, that I feel pays off in the end, giving the whole movie a more human feel.
If there’s a weak part, it’s the direction. Sarah Gavron felt the need to almost never use a tripod for the entirety of the runtime. This works well for some moments, when women are getting beaten is a good example of this. It also works not so well at other moments, like during simple conversations. It was hard to focus on the words when the camera was shaking so much for absolutely no reason. There was nothing special or remarkable about the directing, nothing unique. It was just fine.
As great as a lot of the parts were, Suffragette still seems like a bit of a disappointment. The combination seemed to have somehow lessened how good they were. In spite of the direction, the story manages to get across and be impactful. One only can imagine what could have been made with a more artful person at the helm, but in the end, it is a good movie. Not great, not bad, just good. 7/10
Image Credit: Leonard Bentley on Flickr.