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SUFFRAGETTE (review)

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(Editor’s note: This review was originally written for Exclaim! It is published here with their gracious permission.)

SUFFRAGETTE

Written by Abi Morgan / Directed by Sarah Gavron / Starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep

Emmeline Pankhurst: I would rather be a rebel than a slave.

It’s right there in the title. SUFFRAGETTE, which is set in the early 20th century during the time of the British women’s suffrage movement, and features mostly fictional characters, is all about suffering. For nearly two hours, director Sarah Gavron subjects her audience to the suffering so many brave British women went through as they fought for their rights to vote and have their voices heard. While their suffering was undeniably worse, watching a movie about their suffering is no picnic at times either.

Not to say that watching others suffer on film is inherently trying, and not to suggest that women just like the one’s featured in SUFFRAGETTE didn’t have to endure great injustices, but Abi Morgan’s (THE IRON LADY) script is somewhat relentless. Carey Mulligan (AN EDUCATION) stars as Maud Watts, a wife and mother who has worked in a laundry factory since she was a young girl. Her mother died when she was four years old; she was sexually abused throughout her childhood and adolescence; and when she inadvertently gets caught up in the suffrage movement, she is turned away by her husband (Ben Wishaw, THE LOBSTER) and made to live on the streets. And this is just one woman’s story we have to bear witness to. Add to that the plight of a handful of other women and SUFFRAGETTE can be a tad overbearing.

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At times, as we watch the suffragettes, including Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep (who is only on screen for about five minutes), throw rocks through windows and blow up mailboxes just to get the government to notice them, it can be difficult to connect how their efforts actually advanced their cause. This may be because Gavron chooses only to show these women as ignored and put upon rather than allow us any insight into their actual cause. While SUFFRAGETTE does struggle to tie all of its parts together, it does make one thing quite clear. The fight these women fought is far from over, as the suffering they fought against is a battle that is still being fought by women today the world over.

3.5 sheep

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