Monday, October 26, 2015

Suffragette (**)

Directed by Sarah Gavron


Suffragette is a purposefully-directed film with good intentions. It gets a performance out of Carey Mulligan that proves that she is one of the best young actors working right now. In a time where the reproductive rights of women are still being decided by a mostly-male government, its story - of a rebellious group of working class women fighting for the right to vote in late 19th Century London - is still palpably topical. And yet, the film feels entirely too low stakes, even it's most emotionally-charged scenes feel telegraphed to the audience. It seems to lack nuance. When well-meaning mother and wife Maud Watts (Mulligan) sees firsthand the effect of the Suffrage movement, she decides to join a local group of women called the Suffragettes, performing acts of civil disobedience, stirring the pot under the guidance of their leader, Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep, in a glorified cameo). This group includes Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham-Carter), a local doctor with a strong loyalty to Pankhurst, Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff), a rabble-rousing launderette in an abusive marriage, and Emily Davison (Natalie Press) a soft-spoken protestor with a lot more in store than it may initially seem. They face the violent punishment from the police, as well as an Irish detective named Steed (a solid Brendan Gleeson) brought in especially to squash the movement. Despite constant arrests and police beatings, as well as the alienation of their husbands, the Suffragettes continue to blow up postal boxes and throw rocks through store windows, sure to be heard. Aside from Parkhurst, the Suffragettes here are all fictional, and perhaps that explains why the film lacks an emotional weight. Despite the solid work Mulligan does here, Suffragette doesn't feel like the kind of watershed film that it thinks it is. Director Sarah Gavron shoots with a lot of handheld, meant to give the story an immediacy, but it too often distracts. Some of the scenes are strong, almost all of them are lead by the performances, but this film feels flat, more steadfast than effective.

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