SUFFRAGETTE: 2 STARS. “well-intentioned retelling of an important and timely story.”
There’s a noise I hear in my head when I’m watching dryly-presented historical dramas. It’s a faint scratching sound that always reminds me of sitting in Mr. Parkers history class, listing to him write thousands of words on the chalkboard before saying, “Copy this into your scribblers and read chapter 3 by tomorrow.” I was reminded of the sound during a recent screening of the new Carey Mulligan film “Suffragette.”
Set in 1912 London, the movie stars Mulligan as Maud Watts, a young wife, mother and laundry worker. It’s a tough life for the twenty-eight year old, who has worked at the laundry since she was a little girl. Long hours leave little time for her family, husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw) and son George (Adam Michael Dodd), but they are a loving trio, at least until she meets Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff), a disciple of Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep), Britain’s leading suffragette.
In 1912 women were considered to not “have the temperament or the balance of mind” to take part in the political affairs. Following years of peaceful protest for equal rights the suffragettes begin a campaign of civil disobedience.
“You want to respect the law?” says Violet Miller. “Then make the law respectable!”
Maud becomes involved with the cause, helping Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter) blow up a Member of Parliament’s house and winding up in jail. Prison time was a badge of honour for the suffragettes, but Sonny wants nothing to do with it and soon Maud is separated from her family. With no legal recourse to get custody of her son she throws herself into the movement, fighting to get the vote and rights for women.
For a movie about rebellion “Suffragette” contains very little rebellious spirit. It’s a straightforward retelling of the story, a piece of history right out of Mr. Parker’s class. The only thing missing is the sound of Mr. Parker writing it out on the chalkboard.
It is a well-intentioned retelling of an important and still timely story but director Sarah Gavron leans too heavily on the kitchen sink drama—and a dull visual palette of beiges and reddish browns—for the broader story of the fight for women’s rights to have the impact it deserves.
“It’s deeds not words that will get us the vote,” and Gavron shows us the deeds—including the infamous mailbox bombings and a truly hard to watch prison force-feeding—but by the time the end credits roll there are story threads dangling all over the place and while we’re left impressed by the performances, the story telling itself is less impressive.