- RatedPG13 /GenreDrama
“We’re in every home, we’re half the human race. You can’t stop us all.”
Carey Mulligan is staunch and teary-eyed as she delivers one of the most memorable lines in ‘Suffragette’ to Brendan Gleeson’s antagonistic police inspector.
Indeed, the early 20th century saw legions of courageous women resorting to desperate measures to give a voice and the right to vote to half of Britain’s population – its women.
And ‘Suffragette’, in seeking to revisit this honourable battle that still resonates strongly today, indulges us in these acts of protest and fully captures the sacrifice and courage of the women – and some men – who struggled to enforce change.
But as with any revolution that seeks to inspire, the film needs to cut a lot deeper than the action and logistics of the women’s rights movement for it to have a stronger impact. A pity that it does not, for ‘Suffragette’ is a solid effort that is not nearly as powerful as it should have been, even if its strong performances help to elevate its poignant subject matter.
STRONG PERFORMANCES AND APPROPRIATELY GRIM
Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) keeps her head down as she grits her teeth through the harsh life of a laundress in London. Initially silent about the injustices that women are made to endure, Maud is slowly introduced by a colleague (Anne-Marie Duff) to the women’s rights movement and meets suffragettes such as Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter).
As suffragettes are forced to resort to violent means to secure the right to vote for women, Maud becomes increasingly drawn to the cause and finds herself sacrificing everything she holds dear – especially her family – to do what she believes is necessary.
Make no mistake; ‘Suffragette’ is tough to its core, and proud to establish itself as such. Unapologetically grim, it resonates with the determination and passion of the titular women activists and those who brought the film to life.
‘Suffragette’ wastes little time in getting to the heart of its subject matter, diving almost immediately into the political situation that early 20th-century British women fought to change.
Director Sarah Gavron is determined to inject her film with bitterness, draining the screen of bright colours and leaving only the social and physical brutality that was the reality for working class women with no political voice to change their situation.
And then it plunges deeper, pushing its audience into murkier territory via the transformation of its tortured protagonist and talented leading lady.
Hat tipping is owed to Carey Mulligan, who practically carries the entire film on her character’s feeble but determined shoulders.
She is in almost every scene, yet Mulligan does not struggle with the responsibility; she ignites the screen with an enthralling performance that draws viewers to her cause. She is beaten repeatedly, incarcerated, stripped of everything she holds dear, and ripped apart emotionally. The slow and gradual torture of Maud is one that the audience easily shares because Mulligan makes it real for us.
Enter Helena Bonham Carter, add a disappointingly brief but still poignant appearance by Meryl Streep, and things only get better. The cast makes it abundantly clear how ostracised and unpopular their courageous characters were, allowing the film to effectively capture the voluntary sacrifice that elevates the respect owed to these women.
NOT POWERFUL ENOUGH
In spite of ‘Suffragette’s’ strong performances and effectively harsh treatment of its characters, the film is not quite the deeply inspiring or emotional powerhouse that it should have been.
It celebrates the suffragettes as a whole, but not the individual characters who are meant to humanise the battle for the audience.
Mulligan’s protagonist is the only character with a concrete backstory, but even her traumatising past experiences are only fleeting glimpses rather than solid foundations to inspire genuine empathy for her motivations.
It does not help that ‘Suffragette’ is only vaguely political, concerning itself mainly with the “what” and very little with the “why”.
It struggles to give the events it explores a sense of progress or meaning, instead providing minimal explanation and context and leaving its audience to connect the dots on their own.
And this lack of orientation with the important events that unfold and the characters that execute them is hardly the way to inspire a sense of revolution.
Held back by its flaws, ‘Suffragette’ does not stir great emotions or provide a coherent enough history lesson the way it should. But it still gets the job done, succeeding in honouring the courageous women who lead the way for change and keeping its audience hooked with Mulligan’s performance.
‘Suffragette’ is a solid effort, admirably exploring a topic that still resonates strongly and remains highly relevant today.
Unfortunately, it falls short of the greatness of the women who inspired it.