Avoids hitting you over the head with its message
Suffragette is directed by Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane (2007)) and is based on a script by Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady (2011)). Unusually as far as I can tell it isn’t based on a book or other pre-existing material. It is of course based on historical events and the battle of the suffragette movement to win the vote for women. It focuses on a group of East London Women who decide to take more radical action after their attempts at peaceful protest fail. The story focuses on the character of Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) who works in the laundry she was born in and appears to have an ordinary life with a husband and young son. She comes into contact with a new laundry worker Violet played by Anne-Marie Duff who has links to the suffragette movement and encourages her to take part. There are a couple of turning points in the movie that drive Maud to increasingly radical action that culminates in events at a world renowned horse race (it’s in the trailer therefore it’s not a spoiler!).
If you know your history and you’ve seen the trailer then you have a good idea where this film is going to end up. That being said it didn’t spoil the experience for me. Going in I had been worried that this film was going to be big on message and small on character and nuance. I was wrong. There is a lot more sophistication to behold and the male characters in particular were more rounded than I expected. Maud’s husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw) comes across as a bit of a dick in the trailer but in the film he is far kinder although he can’t cope with the perceived shame of his wife’s involvement in the suffragette movement. Inspector Arthur Steed (Brendan Gleeson) is a man torn between duty and how he see’s the women being treated. We find out he has some kind of background in undercover policing in Ireland dealing with the Republican movement and he seems keen that Maud doesn’t go down the same radical route – he’s seen it before and what it can cost.
Suffragette features a strong female cast and is more of an ensemble piece despite Mulligan being pushed front and centre. Duff and Helena Bonham Carter as Edith Ellyn are given their fair share of screen time although it must be said that Meryl Streep is wasted as Emmeline Pankhurst – one scene is all you get and when she appears in the window to deliver her speech it’s built up like the second coming of Christ. I trust she didn’t charge too much for that single night shoot. I don’t have any major negatives with this film beyond the one ‘evil’ male character, Norman Taylor (Geoff Bell), as the laundry foreman/over seer who borders on the pantomime but hey you need someone to boo I suppose. My rating is a very strong 3/5 bordering on 4.