Sometimes things come up…or in this case many things do, but enough about my food poisoning. Onward, to my thoughts on Suffragette! “Deeds, not words.” Gotta admit the biggest draw for me when it came to catching Suffragette was the costuming. Many of the items the actors wear in this film are actual period pieces. As in really made in the early 1900s. Amazing, right? But folks looking for an in-depth look at the UK’s suffragette movement may want to dig up a documentary instead.
Suffragette is exactly what the title says; a look at one woman’s involvement with the movement, and how that movement affected her life as the government, neighbors and her own family seek to keep her muzzled.
Carey Mulligan puts in a tour-de-force performance here, showing the depth of Maud Watts, from Maud’s hard life as a washerwoman, to her love of her son and how she gets inadvertently pulled into the movement. Banding together with: * Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham-Carter, playing an amalgam of the more violent women in the movement, based in part on real-life suffragette Edith Margaret Garrud), * Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep, in a role much briefer than her appearance on the movie poster woudl suggest) * Emily Davison (Natalie Press) …and others, Maud shifts from steadfast follower of the status quo to die-hard suffragette. It’s a riveting performance, and one where Mulligan is able to show a range of emotion and depth of feeling that are the trademarks of her work.
Production design is fantastic, and paints a more realistic picture of life as a lower/middle class woman in the early 20th Century. All my love to period dramas — Downton Abbey FTW! — but Suffragette gets down a dirty. Shirtwaists get wrinkled, laundries are fearful places full of danger, and the streets look slick with more than just rain. I feel like a very bad lady-woman; before this film I knew none of these names. And I would have liked to have seen more — or anything, honestly — about the women of color who were in the movement.
But there’s only so much time in a film that revolves around one life in the movement. With Malala Yousafzai and others working for women’s rights worldwide, and the Black Lives Matter movement, now is a perfect time to look at another time in history where people had to stand up for their basic rights. Suffragette is not a perfect look at that movement, nor does it dive into topics beyond the scope of its lead character. But with its earnestness and powerful message, it’s a brilliant place to start. Grade: B