I should start off by saying that I enjoyed this movie. I did! I swear. It was a nice little period drama, packed with great acting and interesting characters and enough action to keep you interested throughout. They really built the tension well. But for all that, there were just too many logical gaps, errors, and questions left unanswered. If you go into the movie with an open mind and a non-critical eye, then power to you because the movie’s phenomenal. But once you start to actually look at it, pieces of the puzzle start to crumble away. Might be a side-effect of the shaky-cam. Oh Lord, the shaky-cam. I still have a headache from that. There must be a better way to do crowd scenes, right?
We follow Maude Watts (Carey Mulligan), who’s endearing, hard-working, tenacious, loyal, and incredibly driven. She’s certainly a likable character and your heart breaks for her again and again, over and over, with each new turn of the story. No doubt about that. This is partly the story of how she, a woman who hadn’t even thought about having rights is suddenly and powerfully swept up in the women’s suffrage movement, and partly about the movement itself. Until about halfway, then it’s more about just the movement –the movie decides quite suddenly and swiftly that it is just flat out tired of talking about her family life. More rallies! More sleeping in churches and jail scenes! Women’s suffrage! They do enough character building to get away with the switch, but it still left me with a few questions that I really wish they had answered.
For instance, Maude has a child, Georgie, who she loves very dearly. We are treated to many scenes of the two laughing and playing, enjoying time together. Maude’s husband, Sonny (Ben Wishaw) does not agree with the women’s suffrage movement, and after Maude is kept one too many times behind bars, he feels he has been shamed enough and kicks her out of the house. Nice guy. Heartbreak ensues as Maude is torn from her little boy and her house, but mostly her little boy, and in between scenes of her fighting for her rights, we see her checking in on Georgie and sneaking him out of day care and even sitting outside his window waiting for him to peek outside. The love between them couldn’t be clearer, and it’s hard to watch time and time again as Sonny intervenes half-heartedly but stubbornly as is his right to under the law. It makes the viewer hope that they’ll be reunited. She’ll get the vote and get her kid, right? She’ll have custody rights to her son, yes?
Nope. The movie slams a door in the face of the issue. Sonny can’t take care of Georgie, and decides to give him up for adoption. On the day of Georgie’s birthday, Maude goes to see him, only to find he is being taken away by his new family. She gives him a present and tells him her name so that he can come find her, and then he is whisked away. Maude goes back to the suffrage movement and nothing else is said.
What? Hold on, that’s it? After spending half the movie feeling for this pair, suddenly they’re separated and no more questions are asked? The movie seems to dust its hands of the issues. Nor is Sonny ever seen again, even when Maude visits the laundry house where they both worked once. The whole family issue is resolved with a grimy bow on top and then swiftly tossed out the window.
But hey, this is about votes for women, right? We should be focusing on the movement! And we do. We are met with a whole host of powerful women characters. We have the fierce Edith Ellen (Helena Bonham Carter) who’s a chemist and makes medicine and hosts all the meetings and makes the bombs for the group. There’s Violet Miller (Anna-Marie Duff), tenacious and charismatic and always ready for a fight. You’d want her on your side in anything! And oh wow, Meryl Streep’s character! Third billed for the movie, one of only three on the poster, and what’s her character like?
Well, I couldn’t really tell you. Meryl Streep’s Mrs. Pankhurst is only on screen for roughly ten minutes, maybe not even that, with a total of approximately 9 lines. She’s talked about, her name is a reverent whisper through the movie, but for how important she is she sure as hell ain’t involved a lot in the movie. For someone who is in all the trailers I really expected more.
Suffragette seems to suffer from this problem a bit. Because they have a second character who seems wildly important to the point of the film and we don’t end up spending much time with her. Emily Wildling Davison, played by Natalie Press, is talked about, seen, and she even says a few things. We get at least a sense of her drive for the movement when she goes on a hunger strike in prison. Come to the climax of the film, and she and Maude are about to try and grab the King’s attention at the Derby. The whole film has been leading to this one moment!
And then Emily gets hit by a horse.
This is important because it really did happen, and was a major point for the women’s suffrage movement. Emily’s death made news world-wide, the funeral had suffragettes all around it, and the whole world was watching now. But we didn’t get to know Emily enough to really care. It’s certainly shocking when it happens –I absolutely gasped and covered my mouth in surprise—but that’s about it. I had no emotional pull to the character, and for someone who was so important and made up the climax of the film, she isn’t given enough lines or screen time.
While well-acted all around (the cast really works hard with this movie), there are simply a few too many quirks and errors to make it a really great film. Good? Yes. Enjoyable? Absolutely. If they learn to shoot their crowd scenes better without all the jumping up and down as Maude walks, then I’ll love it even more. But great? Not really.
Written by Sara Gadilauskas