Suffragette Review

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.

Paddington Review

Preface

I don’t even know what type of review this is. I could call it a retro review but it hasn’t even been half a year since the film came out. Since it’s just come out on DVD, it’ll have to be called a DVD Review. Anyway, this film holds a special place in my heart, since it was the last film I saw at the cinema before starting this site. But enough with the attempt at pulling some heartstrings, here’s Paddington.

Review

Paddington is a reboot/re-imagining of the famous literary children’s character from the late 1950s, who after stowing away on a container ship from Darkest Peru, ends up at London’s Paddington Station (hence the name) where the Brown family takes him in.

First off, the cast list for the film is spectacular. Movie 43 may have the biggest names cast list in the history of cinema (which it really doesn’t deserve) but Paddington runs a close second. Ben Whishaw, Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Julie Walters, Peter Capaldi and Nicole Kidman are a stellar cast, along with the smaller roles inhabited by actors such as Matt Lucas, Matt King (Super Hans from Peep Show), Kayvan Novak (Fonejacker), Jim Broadbent, Michael Gambon and Imelda Staunton, making this film a broad spectrum of great actors. Credit is due mostly though to Ben Whishaw, as the voice of Paddington, who delivers a great balance of old-world naiveté and charm to his portrayal of the famous bear.

Sticking with the idea of Paddington, the CGI and animatronics are stunning, with great attention to detail and technical wizardry, giving us, the audience, a ridiculously lifelike bear, which never falls into the uncanny valley.

The script, written by Hamish McColl is both hilarious and poignant, with several jokes coming under the “Pixar Effect”, being aimed at adults who will have taken their kids to see the film. This has landed the film a PG rating, but don’t be put off, this is still a film for the entire family. Paddington, like McColl’s other notable films, (Mr. Bean’s Holiday and Johnny English 2) has a very British sense of humour throughout, with many of the funnier jokes coming from cutaway gags (such as a more politically correct name for an orphanage still being linked with a gothic setting) and it’s own self-awareness (such as an ever present calypso band playing on the street to camera). It’s these postmodernist flourishes that give the film its charm, and it never becomes a parody of itself.

In relation to the calypso band mentioned, the score, composed by Nick Urata is the best of two styles, the big bold brassy numbers for the comedic set pieces and then a quieter focus on wind instruments and violins for the more downbeat moments, while never feeling out of place. And with the inclusion of some classic songs, such as James Brown’s I Feel Good, Steppenwolf’s’ Born To Be Wild and a hilarious addition of Lionel Richie masterpiece Hello for a brief few seconds, the film’s score becomes one of it’s highlights.

There are only a few small problems with the film. Like Disney’s recent Big Hero 6, the film is only around 90 minutes, probably for it’s younger target audience, but it feels we miss out on some of Paddington just seeing the London that he’s ended up in, rather than the London he believed he was going to. And just a small problem, Madeline Harris, who plays the Brown’s daughter Judy, starts off the film being the typical moody teenager that every parent and older teenager will recognise. In the beginning it just feels forced, but the character eventually mellows out, so it’s not too much of a problem.

In summary, Paddington is a film that anyone can see. With jokes aimed at all audience members without being broad and tame, and a story that doesn’t shy away from heavy subjects like mortality and disgrace, it’s a feel-good ride.

Score: 10/10 Quite possibly surpasses The Lego Movie as the best animated film of 2014.