Film Review: Suffragette
by Abi Hack
When tackling a subject that encourages such a widespread debate, in this case it is the women’s suffrage movement that saw thousands of women violently challenge the oppressive social and political conditions that dominated their society, there is always an element of trepidation that appears around it. This is an important issue and it needs to be treated with the respect that it deserves.
Here we welcome the creative team. Those brave individuals who decided to take on the overwhelmingly large task of depicting a well-known historical event that is inevitably not everyone’s cup of tea. To make a contemporary biopic drama that truthfully portrays the struggles of the inferior sex and poignantly illustrate the torturous conditions that women faced as a consequence of their violent revolt against patriarchy is ambitious to say the least, but recent events have lent themselves to creating a space in which such a work is relevant. There is always that fine line between drama for the purpose of “entertainment” and the dramatization of a socio-political issue embedded within a media form. As a result, any decisions made directly and inadvertently lend themselves to a comment on how this period of time saw thousands of women (and a handful of men) challenge social conventions and bring into question the laws that forced women into the stereotypical “roles” of submissive housewife, caring mother and dutiful spouse.
Not exactly a picnic in the park for any creative mind, but in fairness to director, Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane) and writer, Abi Morgan (Shame, The Iron Lady), they make a serious attempt at it. Although Richard Brody (The New Yorker) would disagree - ‘the script, by Abi Morgan, filters out the contextual complexities of politics, and Sarah Gavron’s direction reduces difficult situations to simple sentiments’ – when considering how much they fit into the limited time of 1hr 46mins, they surely deserve some credit?
So here are the big questions: does the film successfully depict the struggles and tortuous conditions faced by thousands of women in their attempts to attain the right to vote, or does it fall short in its valiant attempts? Do we, the audience, agree with the creative choices made by the Director, producer, screenwriter, etc., or do we challenge their decisions and possibly reduce them down to cheap sell-outs for the purpose of box office success?
In all honesty, this is where I sit (regrettably) on the fence. As a film for the masses and those with limited knowledge of the Suffragettes it is an extremely accessible adaptation of the women’s suffrage movement. Carey Mulligan makes a convincing attempt at portraying the film’s protagonist, 24 year-old laundress Maud Watts, a woman who is torn between familial obligations (particularly towards her son) and an allegiance to womankind.
For those who were looking for something more gritty and raw, this is where the film falls short. It feels too commercialised and does not confront the issue of gender inequality to the extent that is needed to give it the same success as modern works such as 12 years a slave and The Danish Girl. It is not hard hitting enough to be catapulted into the stratosphere of contemporary discussion, and risks leaving the audience feeling disappointed.