SUFFRAGETTE (2015)

November 5, 2015

suffragette Greetings again from the darkness. Most “issues” movies go big in their approach to society-changing events and those that led the charge. Director Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane, 2007) and writer Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady, 2011) instead show us one little corner, a building block if you will, of the larger movement towards gaining women the right to vote in the UK. By focusing on the efforts of a small group of working class women in 1912, the struggle becomes one of flesh and blood, rather than granite statues.

Carey Mulligan stars as Maud Watts, a manual laborer at a commercial launderer. Her character is a composite of working class women of the time, and we come to appreciate her strength and the incredible sacrifices she makes for the greater cause. Maud seems to be a simple woman. She works hard, loves her son and is loyal to her husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw). When first exposed to the civil disobedience of the suffragettes, Maud is caught in the crossfire of a rock-throwing frenzy. She recognizes faces and becomes intrigued with the mission. At first, Sonny tries to be supportive, but soon enough, he is confused, embarrassed and finally forced to take extreme measures. After all, no self-respecting man of the time could allow his wife to sneak about town throwing rocks, setting off bombs, and attending secretive meetings … all for the sake of some ridiculous notion of equality for women!

Helena Bonham Carter appears as the neighborhood pharmacist who is a key cog in the local movement – a movement that had been ongoing peacefully for decades. What’s interesting about her appearance is that Ms. Bonham-Carter is the great-granddaughter of H.H. Asquith, the Prime Minister of UK from 1908-1916. He was an outspoken opponent of the suffragette movement during its most critical time. Her appearance and role in the film is a bit of redemption for the actress and her family.

Deeds not Words. This became the rallying cry for these women thanks to their leader Emmeline Pankhurst. Meryl Streep makes an all-too-brief appearance as Ms. Pankhurst, but it’s a key moment in the film as it solidifies the cause for this group of women who needed to believe that they could make a difference.

Gender inequality seems such an insufficient term for what these women endured. Sexual abuse, domestic violence, unequal pay, hazardous work environments, and almost no child custody rights in disputes with men … these were all commonplace at the time, and the film does a terrific job of making the points without distracting from its central message. Director Gavron’s subtle use of differing color palettes is effective in distinguishing the man’s world from that of the women.

It’s clearly a snapshot of a society on the brink of a revolution, and a grounded yet emotional glimpse at those foot soldiers in the war on injustice. Though this story focuses on the UK, the end credits remind us that in the U.S., it took until 1920 to ratify the 19th Amendment giving women the right to vote; and even more startling, Switzerland took until 1971 and the women of Saudi Arabia only this year obtained voting rights. The movie is a powerful personal story, and also an effective history lesson on the irrationality involved in bringing about humanistic change.

watch the trailer:

 

 


ONE DAY

August 21, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. I have not read David Nicholls‘ novel, but my understanding is that it is extremely well written and its loyal readers really connected with Emma and Dexter. If that’s true, then this film version is even worse than I thought while watching.

This literally is my least favorite type of movie. An uninspired movie that assumes its viewers are unable to think for themselves or judge the actions of its characters. In other words, the filmmakers take for granted that we will accept whatever is shown on the big screen.

 First let me say that I completely understand the school girl crush that a young Emma (Anne Hathaway) has on her classmate Dexter (Jim Sturgess). He is handsome and charismatic and comes from more money than she. I also understand Dexter’s attraction to the lovely Emma. She is very pretty – despite the ridiculous over-sized glasses used for effect in the early scenes – and very intelligent, and a significantly nicer person than he.

What makes absolutely no sense is her continued attraction to this drunken, empty soul for the next twenty years. She is too smart to pine away the years hoping he will wise up and coming running to her. We are supposed to believe that she has no interest in any other relationship except the non-threatening one with flopping stand-up comedian Ian (played by Timothy Spall‘s son Rafe) and a “boring” French Jazz Pianist.

 Dexter’s mother is played by Patricia Clarkson. As she is dying from cancer, she tells him that she believes he will grow into a good man, but isn’t there yet. I guess we are supposed to take her word for it. Instead we only see Dexter go from a selfish pig as a TV personality to a defeated man who must perform manual labor for the first time in his life. My issue is that a defeated man is not necessarily a good man. A man resigned to his life has not necessarily reached enlightenment. Where is Emma’s proof that he deserves her? Where is the indication that her life with him will be better? I tell you where … in the mind of that school girl from years ago.

 Please don’t mistake my words as that of one who has no faith in romantic stories. There are so many ways this story could have turned that it would have captured me. Instead it chose a path that assumed I was ignorant … totally accepting of the ridiculous story being laid out in front of me. 

My final comments on the film involve the cast. Anne Hathaway is an incredibly talented performer. She is not, however, British. Her accent is terribly distracting. Jim Sturgess is a handsome guy, but just not showy enough to pull off the TV personality role. Patricia Clarkson is a fantastic actress, but she is not British either. Seriously, are there not enough British actresses? The casting reeks of a money-grubbing production team. As for director Lone Scherfig … her previous film An Education was cinematic excellence. This is an unacceptable follow-up and we expect better next time.

Since I usually look for the good in movies, I will say the locations of Edinburg, London and Paris were beautiful and different than we usually get from the movies. That provided the only real enjoyment from this highly disappointing movie.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: this is the only way you can see some beautiful scenery from the U.K. and France, and can block out the horrible story onscreen.

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoyed the book and don’t want to spoil that good vibe

watch the trailer: