Review: Suffragette (2015)

Suffragette

Rating

Director

Sarah Gavron

Screenplay

Abi Morgan

Length

106 min.

Starring

Carey Mulligan, Anne-Marie Duff, Grace Stottor, Ben Whishaw, Ramola Garai, Helena Bonham Carter, Brendan Gleeson, Meryl Streep

MPAA Rating

PG-13 for some intense violence, thematic elements, brief strong language and partial nudity

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Review

It’s been more than a century since women began asserting their right to vote and become integral members of society, branching out into fields once dominated by men. In the wake of women’s rights pioneer Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s untimely passing, Suffragette makes a potent statement about the critical need for independence, identity, and freedom more than 100 years later.

Suffragette explores the tinderbox of the equal rights movement in Britain during the early 20th century. Having no voting rights and being treated as the property of their husbands, Carey Mulligan stands in for the everywoman playing Maud Watts as your average working class woman. Growing up in the textile shop, Maud slowly discovers the state of affairs in the world around her as she’s exposed to the hypocrisy, lies, and violence inflicted upon other women, and eventually upon her, as they fight for what is theirs: equality.

Sarah Gavron directs Suffragette with assured grace, giving writer Abi Morgan’s shrewd and pointed script the gravitas it deserves, propelling numerous great actresses to convincing performances. The setting allows us to reflect on the struggle women have had to face for more than a century at the hands of a patriarchal structure that considers them little more than trophies to claim or chattel to push for their own benefit. It’s a harrowing experience for the viewer who not only comes to understand the gravity of the situation on the ground in this period, but how frighteningly that structure and pushback of a bygone era mirrors modern society.

Mulligan delivered two great performances in 2015 with this one being the ultimately stronger work. In Far from the Madding Crowd, she was quietly assertive and strong in character without being overly emotional. In Suffragette, she fires up her emotions in grand fashion, never making them feel overindulgent. Anger, sorrow, and shock are effortlessly delivered in this period drama about women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom.

Anne-Marie Duff, Romola Garai, Helena Bonham Carter, and Meryl Streep, in a very brief role, are all able supporters of the cause in general and the film in specific, each delivering fine performances of varying degrees of emotional resonance. From the steely determination of Carter’s Edith Ellyn to Duff’s sarcastic aggressiveness to Garai’s simple elegance to Streep’s blistering conviction. These are all formidable actresses standing up for equal rights in modern society when even a century passing doesn’t mean the war has been won.

In a world where a backwards-facing government can push forward positions and individuals who act in direct defiance to the progress made in the last century, Suffragette exemplifies the abject horror of retreating to an older time. Its message is a lesson for the current and future generations that the war can never be won as long as politicians, judges, corporate leaders, and others continue to treat those rights as up for discussion when they should be utterly unassailable. That’s the ultimate message Suffragette and films like it aim to make and here, it’s done rather convicningly.

Review Written

September 28, 2020

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