If you are of a certain age, your knowledge of the Suffragette movement could be related to that song about it in Disney’s Mary Poppins, but now a lot of people are going to have their eyes opened with this sincere and engrossing movie that looks at the battle for the right of women to vote and forge equality with men.
Suffragette is a smartly written and directed film that examines the grit and personal sacrifice that went into something most people take for granted. But as I say in my video review above, even if this happened over a century ago, the fight still rages and that gives this handsome production real pertinence for a new generation.
Written by Abi Morgan and directed by Sarah Gavron (who both teamed on the excellent 2008 film Brick Lane), this story focuses on Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), a young wife and mother who finds herself caught up in events that quickly spiral out of control as she gets increasingly involved in the Suffragette movement in England circa 1912. Along with a key handful of others, Watts becomes more militant, eventually driven underground against the forces against giving women their rights, and that includes Inspector Steed (Brendan Gleeson), who pursues her and her colleagues like they were Jean Valjean.
The film meticulously chronicles the overall movement, and the sheer heroism of those who joined, by focusing its sights on particular women, but mainly Watts who is inspiring in giving up so much for a cause that overtakes the life she thought she had. It’s an eye-opening film on a subject I have barely ever thought about, but it really brings home the fact that simple things like voting and equality were hard-fought struggles all over the world. In fact, the movie’s most moving section actually comes as the end credits begin to roll. That is when a crawl of hundreds of countries rolls by with the year that women won the right to vote. Astonishingly that crawl leads all the way to today with Saudi Arabia pending. How far we have come, but how far we still have to go.
Gavron has gotten exceptional performances from her well-chosen cast led by a very fine Mulligan delivering another luminous portrayal. I also liked Helena Bonham Carter who plays pharmacist Edith Ellyn and Anne-Marie Duff as Violet Miller, quite touching and spirited as one of the early warriors. Meryl Streep is the biggest name in the cast but she has the smallest role. As movement leader Emmeline Pankhurst, Streep is barely on screen for more than four minutes but the impact and presence of the character is felt throughout the film as Pankhurst basically must remain hidden or risk imprisonment like so many other brave women leading this revolution. Streep is to be commended for lending her considerable clout to this film and subject, one about which she has been very vocal. Gleeson is quite good in what is clearly not a terribly sympathetic role, but he gives him dimension.
It’s entirely appropiate that women are the moving force behind the scenes of this film as well, including Morgan and Gavron. Producers are Alison Owen and Faye Ward. Focus Features releases the film, which world premiered in Telluride, on Friday.
Do you plan to see Suffragette? Let us know what you think.