Film Reviews

AS PITHY AS IT GETS – <i>Suffragette</i> (2015)

AS PITHY AS IT GETS – Suffragette (2015)

Alice Chou

November 25th, 2015


As the fights for racial, gender, and sexual equality continue in our present time, Suffragette, a well-intentioned but flawed film, brings us back to the early struggles for women’s voting rights. It is a good message movie with attention to period details but may not be as fulfilling as an emotional drama.

Written by Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady, The invisible Woman) and directed by Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane), Suffragette stars Carey Mulligan as Maud Watts, a wife and a mother of a young boy, working as a laundress in 1912 London. She has worked in the same place since age 7 and at age 24, she believes her station in life will not change let alone being involved with any political activity. Recruited by co-workers and friends, Violet (Anne-Marie Duff), Edith (Helen Bonham Carter), and Emily (Natalie Press), Maud begins to attend women’s suffrage meetings. The group is inspired and ordered by its leader, Emmeline Pankhurst (brief cameo from Meryl Streep), to use civil disobedience as a tactic to get their voices heard. Initially, Maud is not sure about the the group’s militant methods but she later embraces the movement through her own will and belief and other circumstances in her life.

Suffragette is strong in its message, but weak in its storytelling. We see and understand the poor state all the women were in at that time as well as their plight to gain respect and equal status from a patriarchal society, but we are not totally immersed in their personal sufferings and motivations. With the exception of Maud, who starts out as a reluctant activist and eventually becomes fully committed to the cause at the expense of heartbreaking losses, all the other female characters are not well-developed and they serve only one purpose, to show solidarity with others. Furthermore, all the male characters are either sympathetic but powerless and cowardly men or chauvinist and abusive bastards.

Carey Mulligan gives a sincere effort and she has been mentioned as a possible contender for best actress in the upcoming award season. I, however, prefer her more versatile and subtle performance in a better movie, Far from the Maddening Crowd, released earlier this year. I also take issues with the film’s heavy use of closed-up shots and hand-held camera techniques. They help to convey the intensity and urgency of the subject matter but they also cause disorientation and distraction at certain scenes and discomfort on the eyes.

Despite its imperfections and missed opportunities, Suffragette does remind us that women’s voting rights are won through long, hard-fought battles involving many around the world. It’s difficult for those of us who grew up in the modern time to comprehend that many women in some parts of the world just gained the right to vote not too long ago. In history, leaders of revolutions and movements often get the credits for bringing on better changes to our lives, but the foot soldiers who paid with tremendous, heart-wrenching, and sometimes ultimate sacrifices are often forgotten.

Suffragette continues its run at the Bijou Metro. Click here for showtimes.

Alice Chou is a physician by trade, but a lifelong cinephile and a novice movie reviewer. As Pithy as it Gets is an irregular column in which she provides critical analysis of films screening locally.

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