DIRECTOR: Sarah GavronSUFFRAGETTE_QUAD.jpg_cmyk-1024x768

CAST: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep, Natalie Press, Anne-Marie Duff, Romola Garai, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Samuel West, Adrien Schiller, Adam Nagaitis, Geoff Bell

RUNNING TIME: 106 mins

CERTIFICATE: 12A

BASICALLY…: Working-class mother Maud Watts (Mulligan) becomes caught up in the early days of the British women’s suffrage movement…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Director Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette, from a script by Abi Morgan and starring Carey Mulligan and Meryl Streep amongst others, is one of the best-acted, best-written and best-directed films of the year… and also the most ashamed it’s made us feel over the past twelve months.

The fact that it’s taken them six years to simply make a film about the struggle for women’s rights in the early 20th century speaks volumes about how little faith the powers that be seem to have in a film like this. In an age where opposition to the lack of equality in the film industry is at an all-time high, with filmmakers of gender, race, sexuality, disability and even social status are being given fewer opportunities than able white men, a film like Suffragette not only needs to be made by the right people, in this case a dominantly female cast and crew, but absolutely needs to be seen by as many audiences as possible in order to prove the industry wrong once and for all.

Morgan’s script takes its cues from the radical displays of early female activism, when it becomes apparent that peaceful protests are having no effect. The movement, spearheaded by the in-hiding activist Emmeline Pankhurst (Streep), attracts the attention of working-class laundry worker Maud Watts (Mulligan), a young wife and mother who ends up being a key figure in the fight for the cause against the chauvinistic government and law, the latter represented by Brendan Gleeson’s Inspector Steed, and even her own husband (Ben Whishaw) who violently opposes his wife’s sudden desire for change. With fellow activists Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter) and Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff), Maud takes increasingly dangerous and effective steps to ensure her cause is fought for, ultimately leading to a tragic payoff.

The importance of the film’s topical stance on the acquiring of women’s rights goes without saying – even 100 years later from the events depicted here, women are still being treated unfairly by several industries and countries where women are traditionally second-class citizens – and Gavron fiercely combats the timely relevance of Morgan’s script to make a harrowing but no less effective film about how women were treated not even that long ago. Her shaking camera technique may understandably put some people off, but we feel it works well enough to inject a level of intensity into the situation – who’d have thought that a laundrette could be such an intimidating place? (well, more than it already is, anyway…) – and keeps things paced like a Bourne-style thriller. The Brick Lane director isn’t afraid to highlight some of the darker elements of the story, specifically the law’s inhuman treatment of its incarcerated activists – a scene of force-feeding to a character keeping up a hunger strike is particularly brutal to watch, as is a protest that becomes disturbingly violent early on when angry forces clash with horse-mounting policemen. All of this proceeds to highlight the message even further, that there was a time when women were considered lower on the hierarchy and thus could be beaten and mistreated without a hint of remorse.

Mulligan, on fire here as the central (fictional) figure, balances both fierce opposition and quiet intimidation in her excellent performance here, and as further events lead her to be forced away from her family and everything she holds dear her determination and heartbreak becomes even more powerful. The rest of the cast, including Carter’s chemist Edith Ellyn and Duff’s abused wife, all shine in their own unique ways, and even Streep – whose appearance as Pankhurst lasts no more than five minutes, in one major scene where she briefly comes out of hiding to speak to the enamoured masses – makes the most of her limited screen time to prove an unforgettable force of nature. Her extremely short appearance may cost her some awards glory as is usual with Streep, but then again if Judi Dench can win an Oscar for her eight-minute role in Shakespeare in Love then we suppose anything is possible.

When you take everything into account, from the strong acting to the engulfing direction and writing, Suffragette is truly a film worth recommending. However, although its 12A certificate thankfully means more people of all ages are able to see it and that its relatively strong advertising campaign is getting attention, we still fear the possibility that it will only be a blip on the radar for most, being forgotten not long afterwards. We sincerely hope that isn’t the case, because we strongly believe that more filmmakers of diverse nature need to be given more chances to shine, and the film industry’s reluctance to do so is extremely upsetting to anyone who has the biggest appreciation for it. If this is given the Selma treatment at this forthcoming awards season, wherein it’s mostly ignored by pundits in favour of white male individuals, then it will be an absolute travesty. We hope that, at the very least, Hollywood can look at this film and see that some of the strongest people in film out there at the moment are of the opposite sex, and start to be more open about who they entrust their projects to.

Because, by God, a film like Suffragette needs to show the world that women have a voice in the film world; they just need to be heard by the right people.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Suffragette is the strongest case yet for more female filmmakers in the film industry, with director Sarah Gavron and writer Abi Morgan delivering a compelling and intense film about the early women’s rights movement, and also getting some fantastic performances out of Carey Mulligan, a cameoing Meryl Streep, and a cast of great female actors.