Review: Suffragette

Written by: Dee Pilgrim

You cannot have failed to have seen the media frenzy about this home-grown movie.

It’s the major British title at this year’s London Film Festival and its female cast has appeared on every single domestic TV channel (including the Graham Norton show). So why all the fuss about what is, effectively, quite a small film?

Carey Mulligan in Suffragette

Carey Mulligan in Suffragette

It’s the female angle that counts here. Written by a woman (Abi Morgan), directed by a woman (Sarah Gavron) and featuring a stellar female cast it is, surprisingly, the first movie ever about the suffragette movement in Britain, which by employing militant (and sometimes violent) action won the vote for women.

It was a hard-fought battle and the film doesn’t shy away from the fact these women were putting their lives and livelihoods on the line each and every time they challenged the status quo. However, it is not this aspect of the film that makes it ground-breaking, it is the fact it is shown from the perspective of a working class woman.

Too often, it is the upper class women, such as Emmeline Pankhurst (here played by Meryl Streep), who were active in the movement who hog the limelight. But here we see events through the eyes of Maud (a lovely turn from Carey Mulligan), a married laundress with a young son who is a reluctant suffragette. She wants to keep her head down and not get into trouble, but one of her co-workers (a spirited Anne-Marie Duff) encourages her to meet with other women who are already active suffragettes (Helena Bonham Carter among them) and before she can really understand what is happening to her, Maud’s sense of injustice and anger at her impotence to change things has led her to civil disobedience.

It also leads her to lose the very things in her life she holds dear, further inflaming her desire to bring about change. It is this central role around which the whole film unfolds and Mulligan brings a disarming mix of vulnerability, shame and growing courage to her portrayal of Maud, who seems to grow in stature even as her circumstances plunge her into darkness.

The film itself, though, does not have the same depth or sense of strength. It remains a small, beautifully made, but unremarkable movie. Unlike the women it portrays.

Author: Dee Pilgrim

Dee always knew she wanted to make her living from writing and so trained as a journalist before working for a variety of music and women’s titles including Sounds, Company, Cosmopolitan, Ms London, New Woman, and Girl About Town. After going freelance she concentrated on celebrity interviews and film, theatre, music and restaurant reviews. Her love of film goes back to her very first cinema experience at the age of five when her mother took her to see Bambi. She cried. At one time she was the Film Editor for NOW magazine and also the secretary for the film section of the Critics’ Circle and the celebrity coordinator for its annual film awards’ event. She has written a number of books for teenagers through Trotman Publishing, including five Real Life Guides to vocational careers (including Carpentry, Plumbing and Catering), and also three books on Real Life Issues (Money, Bereavement and Self Harm). Her favourite film is still Bladerunner.

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