Film Review: Suffragette

I was born in the 1980s and while I remember a time before our lives were turned into binary code and broadcast through mobile phones, wireless internet and satellite television, I have lived in a disjointed but equal society my entire life. I am not going to argue that men and women have equal rights, they don’t. You just have to look at the board of directors of the FTSE100 or even the general pay gap to realise society still doesn’t understand women are as capable as men, but, I live at a time when women have found their voice, even if the bigoted majority, still stupidly, refuse to listen.

I’m a man. I don’t face the discrimination of the fairer sex; but I neither do my peers. I’ve just started a psychology degree with over 200 fellow students. There are only 7 men. We are all set the same work, the same deadlines and can even all vote (assuming nationality) should we chose. We can even all apply for the same job in 3 years’ time (assuming we all pass). Yes, societal statistics show my chromosomes apparently give me an advantage, but I can guarantee 193 psychology students won’t be chaining themselves to the fence in protest.

Suffragette & Policeman - London 1914)

This means that when it comes to watching or hearing about the Suffragette movement, I find it very hard to relate. I just cannot imagine a time where the actions and events portrayed could exist. I find it incredulous that any man could truly believe that a woman shouldn’t have the right to equal education, or votes, or simply to be heard. This isn’t helped by the fact that I know it’s real. If I watch a period film, or a Western, or even anything simply turn of the century where the discrimination towards women is far, far worse, I can somehow remove the sensation of guilt as the context seems removed in time to almost become implausibly acceptable. The suffragettes, however, are within living memory. They are connected to my lifetime through my parents and my grandparents. They may be turn of the century but that is just too close to home for comfort.

I knew before seeing Sarah Gavron’s film Suffragette that it was portraying a harder and grittier image of the women involved. That it wasn’t all sashes, smiles and Mary Poppins, but I didn’t expect to find the film I did. It truly is powerful. It is just an onslaught of oppression, and depression, and determination. It feels long and slow because it feels like it is pounding its message over and over and over again, until you submit to the point it is violently making. Right from the start this film takes a very singular point of view and rings every emotion possible from it. It’s a masterclass in emotive film making and invokes a strong empathic response as a result.

Carey Mulligan & Helena Bonham Carter - Suffragette

This onslaught is led by Carey Mulligan who is stunning as Maud Watts. Her character feels real and alive, and whilst there are a few, fleeting moments where I’d break my connection to the film by taking a step back and realising I was still watching Mulligan play a role, it didn’t happen often and didn’t destroy the tone of the film. If anything it was purely a way of creating a break from the emotional pounding the film was giving me. Helena Bonham Carter shakes off the comedic stereotype that seems to stalk her like a shadow to become, just about, serious behind the eyes in a way that compliments the film. I believed in her and her character, but I still could never quite shake the feeling that there is an out-take reel somewhere, in which, after a very serious speech she simply bursts into laughter.

While the leading roles hold the film together with a passion and belief in the narrative path, balanced by a supporting cast that is well used, rather than, existing to just bulk out the numbers en mass. I felt, however, the inclusion of Meryl Streep hurt the film by bringing an overpowering glare. She’s just too famous, and too glamorous in reputation, to fit the dirty and gritty environment the film so wonderfully exists within. She felt involved because she could be rather than because she should be.

Natalie Press & Carey Mulligan - Suffragette

While the environment is dirty and smelly and accurate to the image of the oppressed London I have in my head, there were times when I felt the set as a whole appeared fake; the stone streets looking a bit less cobbled and a bit more plywood. But like the inability to see Mulligan as her character throughout, or the misuse of Streep, Suffragette is so strong in coming forward that a few glancing blows in return are not enough to stop it.

There are flaws in the set up to Suffragette, especially around how it’s pacing and narrative impact creates an ultimately draining effect on you, but I will happily admit as a story it truly had my heart racing. It kept me gripped throughout and I found the ending involving Natalie Press a heartbreaking emotional act, that left me feeling ashamed that as a man, I am even remotely connected to the oppressive majority. Even though I am totally removed from their generation, or their beliefs, which, created and sustained this situation. It is easily one of the most powerful, and emotionally lingering films I’ve seen this year. Suffragette is a film you should watch, whether male or female, but just expect when you do, to take a very deep breath as the final credits roll.

9 out of 10 stars (9 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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