What better way to kick off my year of female-directed films than by watching Suffragette (dir: Sarah Gavron) – which tackles the hefty subject of female suffrage in the UK? It seemed rather apt; so when Girlhood didn’t turn up from Amazon LoveFilm in Monday’s mail, I decided to start the year off by going to see this serious take on an timely subject (see: Saudi Arabia’s voting laws) instead.
I’ll confess that I love Carey Mulligan, the lead in Suffragette, to bits. She’s one of my favourite Brit actresses who, rarely if ever, puts a foot wrong in her choices. She’s a luminescent screen presence who has a wide-eyed, charming innocence, backed up by a steely core and naturalistic style. Pair her with the lovely Helena Bonham-Carter (an actress who has got better and better as her career has progressed) and a tiny cameo from the marvellous Meryl Streep, and Suffragette appeared to be a powerhouse of female acting talent.
Backstory: it’s 1912 and Maud Watts (Mulligan) is a downtrodden laundry forewoman who accidentally gets caught up in a suffragette protest in central London; from there, events conspire to ensure Maud is arrested and imprisoned for her beliefs, with things getting ever tougher as her weak-willed husband (a slimy turn from Ben Whishaw) disowns her and her co-workers turn against her. There’s a heady build-up to the awful events of Derby Day in 1913 when Emily Davison steps in front of the King’s horse to protest about votes for women, then the film clatters on to reveal how UK women didn’t actually get full suffrage until 1928 (which is madness when you stop to think about it). Maud’s life of protest, imprisonment and force-feeding is a terrible condemnation of the politics of the day; and her separation from her child thanks to her husband’s disgust with her ‘shameful’ activities is truly saddening.
What’s also saddening is that I didn’t particularly love my first #52films movie. It had wonderful performances and a beautiful period look and feel – but the tone was slow and preachy and the build-up to change took so long to arrive, that I was sighing and fidgeting by the time the dreadful climax took place. I loved Carey Mulligan’s honest and fresh turn as the slightly by-the-numbers downtrodden Maud; and Helena Bonham-Carter was perfectly prim and bold as the daring chemist Edith Ellyn.
So maybe the performances and period touches redeemed an otherwise rather pedestrian retelling of one of our most important periods in British history. I’d definitely revisit this one as I think it might improve with a second watch; and while its heart is in its right place, I wasn’t immediately enamoured with Suffragette.
Did you enjoy Suffragette? What did you think of the film? Let me know!