I’ve been meaning to watch Suffragette for a while now. It came out on the 12th October, nearly an entire month at the time of writing. But finally, after ploughing through the rest of the films and reviews that I wanted to get done, I managed to watch Suffragette. Does the film stand up to the Best Picture and Actress nomination rumours that have been circulating recently?
Suffragette stars Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep, Brendan Gleeson and Ben Whishaw and is directed by Sarah Gavron. The story follows laundry washer Maud Watts (Mulligan) as she is slowly dragged into the Suffrage movement, led by Emmeline Pankhurst (Streep).
While the film centres around the very real struggle in the early 20th century for women’s right to vote, the film uses many fictional characters, including our main character, Maud, to focus in on. I’m in two minds about this decision, on one hand I like the idea of Maud being the “one-woman-swept-up-in-history” style character, a stand-in for all the nameless women that were part of the fight, but on the other hand, it means her interactions with real-life people and incidents feels a bit incongruous. It’s like Assassins Creed by the end of the film, with Maud stumbling across real life suffragettes like Emmeline Pankhurst and Emily Davison just in time to watch them do the things they are remembered for in history.
Carey Mulligan gives an alright performance as Maud Watts. Some of the time Mulligan shows what a brilliant actress she is, with scenes such as the infamous Epsom Derby or in one of her incarcerations where she is force-fed while on hunger strike, but apart from these fleeting scenes she’s rather bland. Her voiceover throughout several stages of the film is very reminiscent of Harrison Ford’s in Blade Runner, with Mulligan sounding thoroughly disinterested in her role. Ben Whishaw on the other hand as her husband Sonny is very good, playing against type as a patriarchal figure who can be cruel to his wife, and not the loveable geek that he usually plays. Brendan Gleeson is solid as police officer Steed, who is assigned to track down the militant suffragettes. His interactions with Mulligan, along with him trying to help her despite her being a fugitive add to a more morally ambiguous character who won’t just arrest someone because he has been told to.
The main problem I had with Suffragette is the cinematography. The DOP is Edu Grau, who’s worked on several shorts, documentaries and a few big budget films such as an early 2015 film, The Gift. After coming out of the cinema, I was left with a giant headache from Grau’s camerawork, mainly due to his use of handheld cameras. Throughout Suffragette, the camera moves up and down like a bobble-head, giving me an intense feeling of nausea due to the motion blur on screen. Sometimes the camera thankfully settles down for a few minutes, but apart from a few second-long shots, the camera looks like it’s being operated by a man who has springs for limbs. Grau also has a strange tendency for intense close-ups of Mulligan, which are obstructive in terms of hampering the viewing of scenes and are infuriating.
I can’t fault Suffragette for its message or its cast/crew. The main cast, the director and the writer are all female, a rare occurrence in a major cinema release these days, as well as opening at the London BFI festival. And even though the film is set over one hundred years ago, the message is still shocking relevant, as a scrolling text at the end of the film shows at what time voting for both genders was made law in countries, as well as the countries that still don’t have equal voting rights. But even with all the excellent cast, a seasoned director and a serious subject matter, the rather un-engaging main character and incredibly annoying camerawork stop it from reaching great heights.
Score: 6/10 An important film, but it really could have been crafted better.