|Courtesy of Focus Features|
2015, 123 minutes
Rated PG-13 for some intense violence, thematic elements, brief strong language and partial nudity
Review by Joshua Handler
Suffragette tells the story of Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), a mistreated young factory worker and mother who joins the women's suffrage movement in 1910s England.
Narratively, Suffragette is fairly generic. It follows familiar story beats and structure. The screenplay, while obviously well-intentioned, doesn't have enough of a potent punch to it, which somewhat undermines the excellent direction. In many ways, Suffragette should have been more narratively similar to Selma, a film that relied much more on the smaller moments of power than the bigger ones. It was a human drama of vivid characters - ordinary people who did extraordinary things in a story filled with violence that hurt to watch. Suffragette's violence does hurt, but it only hurts because its actresses and director make them hurt. It's not because the characters are so beautifully-written or extraordinary.
Sarah Gavron's graceful, yet urgent direction makes up for a lot of the film's flaws. The best historical films immerse audiences into the time period that they depict like Selma and even Zero Dark Thirty (though that's much more recent history). Gavron primarily uses gritty, grainy 16mm photography to place her audiences right in the middle of the violent clashes of the women's suffrage movement. Much to her credit, Gavron does not shy away from the police brutality that occurred during this time. There's an intensity to Suffragette that's entirely unexpected and very welcome.
No matter if people like Suffragette or not, no one will dispute the quality of its performances. Carey Mulligan gives yet another heartfelt, moving performance as Maud. Mulligan possesses one of the most angelic faces in cinema, one that almost immediately provokes a sense of sympathy. She also happens to be one of the few actresses who can rest the weight of her performance on her face. But, like one of the greats like Marion Cotillard or Meryl Streep (who gives a short, memorable performance in this film), Mulligan can also shine in her bigger moments.
Helena Bonham Carter and Anne-Marie Duff give strong supporting performances. Bonham Carter leaves a lasting impression as Edith Ellyn, a doctor who is one of the movement's leaders. Bonham Carter's performance can be compared to Gavron's direction in that it's graceful where it needs to be but brings the power when it needs to.
As important as the film's technical and performance-based merits are, they pale in comparison to how important Suffragette is to this day and age. More so recently than in a long while, gender inequality has been brought to the forefront of discussion, making Suffragette disturbingly relevant. This is not a film that should be relevant, just as Selma was a film that shouldn't be relevant. But Suffragette is and will remain so until attitudes towards women change. Let's hope it doesn't take another 100 years for this problem to be eliminated.