Reel Talk: ‘Suffragette’ an Emotional but Ultimately Flat Take on Feminism
One of the more interesting facts about Suffragette is that it’s almost entirely made by women. About the fight for women’s suffrage in early 1900s England, it has a female director, writer, a female lead (Carey Mulligan), at least five or six women in supporting roles, five female producers, and more. This needs to happen way more in cinema, and Hollywood is actually being investigated by the government right now for discrimination towards women and other minorities. So, Suffragette is definitely an important film and a step in the right direction, but—as it turns out—that doesn’t make it any more engaging.
It is by no means a bad film— in some spots it really lags, and in some spots it is really fantastic—but it definitely could have been much better. I think one of the issues is that it has a way too narrow scope: within five minutes you know this is a feminist movie about suffrage, and it never really becomes anything else. It is so focused on being unrelentingly feminist that, sometimes, it takes away from the story. For example, almost all the men are purely bad and all the women purely good, which really doesn’t do much for character depth.
One of the more interesting choices by screenwriter Abi Morgan was to have basically everything that could go wrong, go wrong for the main character, Maud Watts. This may not be realistic, but it certainly proves her point. Without spoiling anything that isn’t in the trailers, suffragettes during that time period faced a lot of discrimination, jail time, and government surveillance, and all of this plus more happens to Maud.
The good thing about that is that it leads to a fantastic performance by Carey Mulligan. The range of emotions she can display—the silent toleration of abuse at work, to the longing to see her only son, to an unnerving emotional breakdown in a prison cell—is truly mesmerizing. We at once pity her, look up to her, and root for her, and she never loses our attention. It isn’t Mulligan’s best work, but it’s still deeply moving and might just be enough to land her a deserved Oscar nomination come January.
Other than that, the performances are very good all around, but nobody stands out. Meryl Streep is literally in this for one minute so don’t get your hopes up. Helena Bonham Carter is solid as the spunky, ailing leader of the disobedience movement, and Anne-Marie Duff is great as the coworker who drags Maud into the suffragettes. Outside of that, Brendan Gleason and Ben Winshaw play a torn policeman and disapproving husband, respectively, and newcomer Adam Michael Dodd is surprisingly effective as Maud’s loving son.
So if you are going to see this movie, see it for the performances. Everything else is pretty good but not much more than that.
Overall: 7 out of 10.