By: Muneeb Arshid
Suffragette is the brand new film starring Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham Carter, Brendan Gleeson and a plethora of other fine actors. The story recounts the events of the suffragist movement in Britain and how the suffragist movement evolved from being a pacifist and non-violent feminine movement to one that used violence to make their point (without hurting anyone).
I am quite embarrassed to say that I didn’t know much about the Canadian suffragist movement, let alone the British movement. The piece of information that I was aware of was that certain women were given the right to vote in 1918 in Canada, which at that point would mean that the decree came from Britain and hence was also the year some women were allowed to vote in Britain as well. Which is why once the movie started, I was unaware of many of the characters who are portrayed. Mrs. Pankhurst (Meryl Streep), Emily Davison (Natalie Press), David Lloyd George (Adrian Schiller) and Edith Ellyn (who was inspired by the real-life Edith Garrud and played by Helena Bonham Carter) are all portrayed to be their real life counterparts from the 1910s and were highly influential in turning the MPs in Britain and eventually securing the vote for women.
Carey Mulligan’s Maud is created specifically for this film. Maud works at a laundry factory, working in horrendous conditions with a vile human being of a boss. However, she’s not only skeptical but also against the suffragist movement. However, as she gets to know the inner workings and the people involved, she becomes a very prominent figure for the movie. Maud is portrayed wonderfully by Mulligan, who once again shows her acting chops that she’s shown before in movies like Shame and Far From the Madding Crowd. Her character is used in the movie to allow for exposition to occur without blatantly being obvious to the audience. Her lack of knowledge of the movement coincides with the public watching the movie, more so in North America than in the UK, but still there is an explanation for the heavy reliance on exposition, which if it was in other movies, would be vilified.
The supporting cast for this film is exceptional, most notably from Helena Bonham Carter and Brendan Gleeson (Inspector Steed), the latter playing the inspector in charge by the government to investigate Mrs. Pankhurst and her comrades, and possibly thwart any type of violent conduct that they may be involved in. Steed is in a position where he is employed by the government to stop the suffragist movement and so has to follow the government’s law regardless of how sexist or misogynist the law may be. But his conversations with Maud when she is arrested, are very important and are key as to why this movie works so well. He admits to her during those “interrogations” that he doesn’t actually agree with the laws in place and that he is sympathetic to their cause, but he is bound by his job to make sure that the laws that are in effect, are carried out properly. These character interactions and dialogue are absolutely crucial to show the emotions that are being conveyed. And it’s not only between Maud and Steed but also between Maud and her husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw) which shows the problems that joining the suffragist movement meant for many women in Britain. However, it’s the internal comradery that keeps the movement afloat and allows them to essentially make sure that they achieve their final goal.
Another strong point of the movie is the cinematography of the film, helmed by Eduard Grau (The Gift and A Single Man). He makes a point of taking a lot of close-up shots especially of Carey Mulligan, which makes it essential for her to be able to “act with her face”. And she is certainly able to do just that, expressing different emotions, usually sadness and anger throughout the film, but there are glimpses of happiness that she conveys when something goes right for their movement, or when she was in the company of her son. The colour palate of the film is also beautiful and really shows the differences between the settings. A lot of darker grays are used for the murkier London alleys where Maud works and lives, but you also get a much brighter palate when the movie moves to the wealthier countryside estate.
If there is one thing that does weaken the movie, it is the plot itself. The plot is taken with a very straight-forward tone, showing and telling the viewer what was going on but there aren’t any plot devices that seem very innovative. They tell the story of this group of women fighting their fight to get the right to vote and with the movie being called Suffragette, you should expect some of the violent conduct. But the story is a simple portrayal of a woman not wanting to join the movement, then being persuaded and watching how she evolves. But I do think that this may have been the best way for writer Abi Morgan to tell the story in a way that made sense to the audience, but it did feel like the plot was quite easy to follow along.
All in all, it’s an important story that needs to be told as it should be something that people have more of a knowledge about the events that transpired and led to women obtaining the right to vote. The other thing about this film is that it actually makes you think of the issues that women are having in terms of employment and pay and reproductive rights and it makes you think that women are striving to fight for equality in other realms similarly to how voting rights were fought for in the teens and 20s.
So overall, a good depiction, but Suffragette could’ve been a little bit more innovative in its storytelling, but I would say that the film is a must watch and well above average, earning a grade of B+