Review: Suffragette

Director Sarah Gavron and screenwriter Abi Morgan bring a period of tumultuous British history out of the pages of the history books and onto the silver screen in their new feature Suffragette.

The film is set during the early 1900s, where for decades the women population of Britain have lobbied and labored for the government to recognize that as citizens they have the right to cast their ballot, just as the men do. Led by principle Emmeline Pankhurst, the Suffragette movement gained significant traction to inspire women in Britain to take up the call and empower themselves so that the government can take action.

Image by Focus Features

Suffragette is not so much the story of the movement specifically, but rather the story of one woman who becomes immersed in the movement named Maud Watts, played by Carey Mulligan. Maud’s backbreaking job at the laundry, the tensions between her and her husband Sonny, played by Ben Whishaw, and her association with proud Suffragettes Violet Miller, played by Anne-Marie Duff, and Edith Ellen, played by Helena Bonham Carter, lead up to an eye-opening realization: women in Britain were treated unfairly, which is what led Maud to become a Suffragette herself.

The one thing I will not say about Suffragette is that it is a chick flick, meaning that this is a movie tailored just for women. As a man, I came away from Suffragette really satisfied because I believe it was an empowering and educating feature for its target audience, which would undoubtedly be women-in fact, most of the audience in the theater where I saw the film applauded Suffragette.

I thought the film was very adequate. It did what it was made to do, it featured its strong-points well enough, it was entertaining to watch and despite its flaws and it’s preachy approach, I enjoyed Suffragette for what it was: a movie made by women, for women, with a strong message for women about equality.

Image by Kellie Petersen

The direction of Sarah Gavron was practically simple hence it’s practical effectiveness. I think that she wanted to show this period piece as close to a war feature as possible; as I was watching this film I felt that I was watching a war drama where women were literally taking the fight for the freedom to the government that had been oppressing them, a male-dominated society and it was a tit-for-tat battle between these two figures in Maud, a converted rebel fighting for the cause, and Inspector Steed, played by Brendan Gleeson, fighting for the law.

Abi Morgan’s screenplay was very steady throughout, yet the way Suffragette ended with the funeral procession of Emily Winding Davidson, it felt so open-ended and these characters who the audience has been following from the start of the feature, Maud, Edith, Violet, Sonny, George, Steed, no one knows what happened to them and I thought the film ended very half-assed; yes they eventually get the right to vote but what happens to them? Does Maud get her son back and reconcile with Sonny? What happens to Edith? etc.

Image by Focus Features

I truly enjoyed watching these actresses flex their muscles in film dedicated to the ideals of feminism and women’s empowerment. Carey Mulligan gives a superb performance even though her character arc takes every predictable twist and turn, Helena Bonham Carter is great as the soldier suffragette Edith Ellyn, Meryl Streep is only in the film for one scene but she stole the scene and ran with it, which is typical considering it’s Meryl Streep, and the rest of the cast are all quite fine themselves; Brendan Gleeson, Anne-Marie Duff, Ben Whishaw, Geoff Bell, Adam Michael Dodd, all give nice performances.

Again I like Suffragette, in spite of its flaws and there were a handful of them. I already elaborated on the overall preachiness of the feature, how opened ended Suffragette left things regarding the characters, but there are other technical flaws which truly weighed down the picture.

For starters I wasn’t really a fan of the cinematography. I felt that Edward Grau used one stedicam tracking shot too many and the camerawork was entirely clumsy in certain scenes while others such as when Pankhurst stepped out onto the balcony to “rally the troops” so to speak, were pulled off quite nicely. The camerawork didn’t do any favors for Barney Pilling in the post-production phase, to tell the truth.

Alexandre Desplat is a master composer, yet I found the implementation of his score a little overdone. In particular some scenes came off more melodramatic than others and I would have liked the score to be more subtle.

I did find that the sound quality of the picture well-done and the costumes by Jane Petrie were nice too.

In summation, I would recommend seeing Suffragette because there is great appreciation for what it is at its core: a testament to the fight for women’s rights and equality and how that fight isn’t finished yet.

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