SUFFRAGETTE || 2015, UK || Period Drama || Directed by – Sarah Gavron / Written by – Abi Morgan / Produced by – Nik Bower, Hannah Farrell, Rose Garnett, Cameron McCracken, Teresa Moneo, Alison Owen, Tessa Ross, James Schamus, Andy Stebbing, Faye Ward / Music by – Alexandre Desplat / Cinematography by – Eduard Grau / Editing by – Barney Pilling / Production design – Alice Normington / Costume design – Jane Petrie / Starring – Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Brendan Gleeson, Anne-Marie Duff, Ben Whishaw, Meryl Streep / Running time: 106 mins.
Sarah Gavron’s much awaited Suffragette, deals with the historical early 20th century British movement for gender equality and the female right to vote. The screenplay by Abi Morgan is heavily politicized, but Gavron’s touch also leaves room to accentuate more human aspects of the story and an active interaction with the viewer by means of more traditionalist melodramatic situations, and its central, character driven storyline. This is represented by the character of Maud (Carey Mulligan), an average, working class wife and mother working in a London textile factory who joins the cause inspired by political activist Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep in a blink and you’ll miss it but nonetheless very significant cameo).
Its outlook opposes the patriarchy, by showing women constantly treated as inferior beings, used, abused and mistreated. The forman at the textile factory in which Maud works, sexually abuses her and her co-workers. Even at home, Maud is systematically finding herself playing the role of the maid for a husband who, despite being seemingly good nature, never really lifts a finger. More significant is that as Maud’s interest in the movement rises, her husband’s disapproval and stubbornness leads to tragic consequences, and splits the couple apart.
On the other hand, the titular Suffragettes, despite representing a diverse array of women from different background and of different personalities, are not at all sanctified. Indeed, some of their most drastic acts can freely be frowned upon. Many of their tactics even recall acts of terrorism of recent times, and their detachment to society sometimes makes them look borderline fanatic. This is not the only element of the film that makes the period drama look close to present times. The shaky, handheld camerawork by Eduard Grau gives the whole thing a gritty documentarian feel, and in the most chaotic of scenes, the closeness of the cameras to its characters are purposefully stuffy depictions of an overcrowded and unhappy London, which is not far from the recent truth.
The hugeness of the cultural context of the film, as well as the hardships that led to the uprising in the first place are represented by Maud in a way that goes beyond the surface narrative intentions. Even the fact that her antagonism is embodied in the form of an agent leading the investigation against the suffragette (played by Brendan Gleeson) and her seemingly harmless but progressively cold and disastrously disapproving husband (played by Ben Whishaw), shows that feminism was and is not only politically opposed, but socially and domestically oppressed. Carey Mulligan in this role delivers possibly her best performance yet, because the evolution of her character’s involvement with the suffragette and the impact it has on her personality and her life is so painfully real that it brings us closer to her and becomes a remarkable portrayal of how far someone can really go in the fight for their beliefs.
It’s possible that Suffragette may appear too heavy handed, or not heavy handed enough, depending on expectations shaped by the theme of feminism more than anything else. But this is only a result of narrow mindedness. Its power and intensity never diminishes throughout its entire duration and as a piece of filmmaking, despite its narrative excesses, it is far less prone to the melodramatic sugar-coating of other films, nor does it feel obnoxiously self-righteous. – 4/5