Suffragette, as its title succinctly announces, is about the feminist movement in early 20th-century London advocating women’s right to vote. Seen through the eyes of the fictional character Maud (Mulligan) – born, raised and employed in a laundry in which she’ll probably also die – it blends the imagined travails of a young mother learning to stand up for her dignity with the sacrifices made by real-life heroines such as Emily Davison and Emmeline Pankhurst. Needless to say, tears are shed and injustices suffered, before the end credits update you on how far we’ve come thanks to a generation of women who endured, rebelled and triumphed.
The tribute is certainly meaningful and the history very much worth remembering, but that only serves to accentuate how blandly it’s done in this movie. Like a screenwriting programme that dutifully goes through the motions, the script maps great highs and lows in its protagonists’ struggles yet can’t keep an air of sterility out of the proceedings. The horrors and misfortunes it so emphatically spells out lack depth and soul, due in no small part to Gavron’s impassioned but often bluntly literal direction. The film’s saving grace arrives in the form of Eduard Grau’s elegant cinematography and some fiercely committed performances from a near-all-female-cast. Craft, goodwill and a noble premise ultimately aren’t enough, however, to redeem something too caught up in the message it forgets it has a story so tell.
Suffragette | Directed by: Sarah Gavron (UK 2015) with Carey Mulligan, Anne-Marie Duff, Helena Bonham Carter. Opens in NYC October 23.