Thursday, November 19, 2015

Movie Review #341: "Suffragette" (2015)

Director: Sarah Gavron
Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 1 hour, 46 minutes
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A laundry house worker named Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) joins the Suffragette movement in England in the early 1910's. After many years of peaceful negotiations, the Suffragettes starts to resort to civil disobedience to try and garner attention for their movement. Joining the movement costs Maud her job, her husband, and so much more, but on the other hand, she also gains a life of great importance and purpose.  

I am woman, hear me roar!

This film takes place in 1912 in England, a time when women were treated as second-class and were struggling for equality. Their first step was to attempt to acquire the right to vote. With no vote, they had no voice and their destinies were left entirely in the hands of those who oppressed them. Carey Mulligan stars as Maud Watts, a fictional character that is inspired by many of the working class women who fought for the right to vote. Mulligan delivers a superb, layered performance in this role. Maud started at a very young age working in the harsh conditions of the laundry house where she had been the majority of her life. An entire arm covered in burns, she often remembers her mother, who would strap her to her back when she was just a wee child. In those times, women were forced to bring their kids to work and pray no one got hurt. Timid at first, her character grows more and more restless watching her things around her go from bad to worse, such as her boss fondling an underage coworker. She becomes angry with the system of inequality that allows her to be paid 13 shillings a week for a much more toxic and dangerous job to a man's 19 shillings, working in the fresh air biking clean laundry to local houses. Does this sound familiar at all??!?? After attending a meeting and after trying to distance herself from the movement, the Suffragettes seem like the only people who understand her struggle and she finds herself more drawn to them over time. Though her husband Sonny, played by Ben Whishaw, doesn't want her participating in activities that might make her seen as sullied in the neighborhood, Maud risks her job and the life she knows to attend and eventually participate in the meetings and sometimes misdoings of the Suffragette movement.

The majority of the characters in this film are fictional and merely inspired by real life counterparts. Besides Maud Watts, the other two primary characters are Edith Ellyn, played in a more subdued yet striking manner by Helena Bonham Carter, whose character is mainly inspired by Edith Garrud, and Violet Miller, played by Ann-Marie Duff, who worked with Watts in the laundry and recruited her into the movement. The real life characters portrayed here are Emmeline Pankhurst, played by Meryl Streep, who despite being a big marketing ploy in the trailer and posters for this film as well as a frequent featured selling point, has less than five minutes of screen time; and Emily Davison, played by played by Natalie Press, who plays a major part in the climax of the film, but is more of a secondary character throughout the rest of it. Though these two woman are not the focus of the movie, they are two extremely pivotal characters in the movement to allow women the right to vote and serve as gigantic points of inspiration for others struggling in a world that under values them. Much like the movie "Titanic," "Suffragette" chooses to use fictional characters and their personal struggles to try and drive an intimate emotional punch against the backdrop of pivotal historical events with true life characters filling out secondary roles. The high point of this film is Carey Mulligan herself and her performance is stellar. We watch her go from a meek-minded mother and merely an observer to a full-fledged participant in getting woman the right to vote. Mulligan has some excellent back and forth exchanges with Brendan Gleeson's character Inspector Steed over the Suffragettes methods of civil disobedience to attain their end goal. Steed doesn't see why women want or need the right to vote and doesn't think they have the same mental capacities as men to take part in such a prestigious right.

Though the film obviously has only good intentions at heart and an all too poignant relevance for the state of the world right now, unfortunately, "Suffragette" isn't perfect. It often feels long and slowly drawn out for emphasis's sake, but winds up feeling more like a tedious after school special at time. Director Sarah Gavron also made some odd editing choices and favored shaky camera work and the all too dreaded tight zoom-in shots over something much more traditional. This seems to be done in a way to make us feel like active participants in the movement, especially in scenes featuring brutal police protests where women were often beaten for speaking up out of turn, but this isn't a movie we need to feel physically; all we needed to do was feel the emotional spark, which we did wholeheartedly. As feminists, we appreciate this film for bringing the story of the Suffragettes to life and giving characters, even fictionalized versions of those who fought hard for the right to vote, a voice, a name, and a face to their struggles. It shows us simultaneously how far some women sections of the population have come and how little things have changed for others. With an award-worthy performance by Carey Mulligan, "Suffragette" is worth a watch, but still isn't the perfect, flaw-free feminist movie we were looking for and hoping it would be.

My Rating: 7.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.8/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 72%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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