The Hippo


Apr 20, 2019









Suffragette (PG-13)
Film Reviews by Amy Diaz

By Amy Diaz

 A factory worker is drawn in to the campaign to win women the right to vote in Suffragette, a not-quite-there look at the women’s suffrage movement in 1912 Britain.

Maud (Carey Mulligan) is 24 but she has already spent more than 10 years of her life working in a giant laundry where she makes significantly less than her husband, Sonny (Ben Whishaw, the current Q of the Bond movies), who also works there, and where she also has to deal with the lechery of her serial rapist boss. The factory earns the family enough to pay for their small apartment, the daycare where her young son George (Adam Michael Dodd) spends his days and occasional outings to the movies but not, we gather, a whole lot more. When Maud hears Mrs. Haughton (Romola Garai), wife of the local MP, urging women to give their testimony to hearings considering the issue of women’s vote, she is intrigued, just as she is by the suffragette medals on the coat worn by Mrs. Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter), the pharmacist whom Maud goes to for George. Her husband, though, takes a dim view of suffragettes and she perhaps also fears the attention it could bring to her at the factory. But the pluckiness of fellow factory worker Violet (Anne-Marie Duff), whom Maud happened to see throwing rocks through windows during a protest, convinces Maud to stick her neck out a bit and go to parliament to hear Violet’s testimony. When Violet is unable to testify, Maud finds herself in front of Prime Minister Lloyd George (Adrian Schiller) giving her own account of her life. The moment gets her invested in the suffrage struggle, but she quickly learns her involvement comes at a price. Soon her job, marriage, rights to her son and even freedom are at risk as she is sucked into the government’s campaign of harsh prosecution of suffragettes.
It’s a common narrative structure — for movies, newspaper stories, whatever — to tell the story of a moment in history or of an issue by focusing on one person. It gives the facts emotional resonance. It’s easier to feel something about Maud than about all women of turn-of-the-20th-century Britain.
Except, sometimes it’s not. 
The movie ends with real-life newsreel footage of a funeral that comes at the end of the movie (while the story of Maud and some of the central characters is fictional, historical people and events are swirled throughout). The funeral and the events that lead to it aren’t smoothly portrayed, in my opinion, in the film itself, but the real-life newsreel footage, followed by title cards that list when women gained the right to vote in a variety of countries, is actually quite moving and made me feel the emotional importance of the suffrage fight in a way the preceding movie hadn’t. (Also, it was neat to see that while the U.S. was by no means the first western country to give all adult female citizens the right to vote, it got there before many countries in Europe, including the U.K.)
I also liked the glimpses of working-class life the movie gave us. Details, such as the woman whose job it appeared to be to wake people up by blowing small pebbles through a straw and hitting their windows (kind of ingenious — wakes up the window’s tenant but not their neighbors), were fascinating. And I liked the way the movie showed us how some in the suffrage movement began to see property destruction as the means by which it could draw public attention to its cause. Hints about the disagreement within the movement about this tactic were also interesting, as were scenes where Inspector Arthur Steed (Brendan Gleeson), the government’s investigator of these women, bunched suffragettes in with Fenians as agents of what we would now call domestic terrorism. The scenes suggest a politically volatile environment in the U.K. in 1912, which, coincidentally, is the same year as the first season of Downton Abbey. How fascinating to think that while Lady Mary is in the country, flirting with the doomed Mr. Pamuk, Maud is getting beat up by police for being at a rally.
Basically, this movie has what I think of as the Gangs of New York problem: namely, every historical thing happening on the periphery of the fictional central story is totally engrossing while the central narrative left me feeling sort of uninterested. Mulligan does a perfectly fine job making Maud sympathetic, but by focusing on her story I felt like we lost out on really understanding the times and the significance of the vote for the women of Great Britain. Suffragette is a serviceable dramatization of this slice of history but I could have used way more on the suffrage movement and less about this one particular “ette.” B-
Rated PG-13 for some intense violence, thematic elements, brief strong language and partial nudity. Directed by Sarah Gavron with a screenplay by Abi Morgan, Suffragette is an hour and 46 minutes long and distributed by Focus Features. 

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