Suffragette movie poster
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Suffragette
Suffragette movie poster

Suffragette Movie Review

Now available on Blu-ray and DVD (Buy on Amazon)

Suffragette has all the makings of a good movie: a talented cast, good direction, and an interesting story. Meryl Streep. So why is it so dull?

Carey Mulligan stars as Maud Watts, a composite character of several working-class women in the early 20th century who joined the Suffragette movement--a campaign to achieve voting rights for women in the United Kingdom. Though at first content with her modest life with her husband (Ben Whishaw) and son, Maud is soon drawn into the fight for women’s rights and faces the scorn of the British government--including imprisonment and torture.

Mulligan, who delivers a strong but not particularly noteworthy performance, is joined by Helena Bonham Carter and Brendan Gleeson. Both are good in their relative roles. Oddly, Meryl Streep, who has an extended cameo role, is more distracting than anything else as icon Emmiline Pankhurst.

The problem is that while director Sarah Gavron has made a good looking film, complete with grand set pieces and a gritty, visceral aesthetic, Suffragette fails to grab you by the throat. In an interview I did with Gavron, she cites The Conversation and The French Connection as influences to achieve a certain level of tension you normally wouldn’t expect from a drama about women’s voting rights. While the movie does feel like a thriller in a few parts, thanks primarily to the score, Suffragette is not particularly thrilling or suspenseful, and efforts to make it such feel half-hearted.

Suffragette picks up its pace as the women are placed in prison and subjected to some pretty degrading stuff, but the film doesn’t maintain this intensity throughout. As the women begin to resort to more drastic efforts--sabotage and what today would be regarded as terrorism--the film holds back, unwilling to ramp up the excitement factor.

As is, Suffragette is most definitely a drama, one that depicts the circumstances well but falls short of resonating at an emotional level. Gavron’s decision to make her lead protagonist a composite character rather than one of the actual women who played a key role in the movement doesn’t pay off; the climax, which is supposed to be immensely emotional, is anything but. My reaction was: who was that woman, and why wasn’t she the main character, or at least a major supporting one?

Suffragette isn’t terrible, but it’s a little boring and certainly a film that doesn’t live up to its potential.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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