In some historical movies before it, such as the brilliant historical comedy-drama Pride (2014), and in 2010, Made in Dagenham, a humorous approach is taken on historical-societal matters: Suffragette, on the other hand, does quite the opposite.
Suffragette is a much darker and more dramatic picture than Pride and Made in Daghenam: the story takes place in London, in 1912. The streets are filthy, women are visibly oppressed by their husbands and abused by their bosses making their life expectancy extremely short. They’re fighting for a right to vote to improve their working condition and to enter the political spectrum, an unknown territory for these women. According to Emmeline Pankhurst- the leader of the ‘Votes for Women’ movement portrayed by the incredible Meryl Streep- the women are joining forces, “not because they are law-breakers; but in their efforts to become law-makers.”
The more serious aspect of the film is highlighted by the light-hearted nature of those that have come before it. In Pride, we followed a group of eccentric lesbian and gay activists who raised money to help families affected by the British miners’ strike in 1984. Made in Daghenam, which, according to a review by The Oxford Student, ‘offers feminism, floral 60s pastels and fun’, depicts a group of female workers in the 60s who walk out in protest against sexual discrimination, demanding equal pay.
In the film, suffragettes are a political group of women considered as a group of ‘anarchists’ by the government under Lloyd George. Indeed, as Emmeline Pankhurst said “I have never advised the destruction of life, but of property, yes”. The Suffragettes, therefore, never perpetrated attacks against human lives but tried to get people’s attention by destroying public property after long years of peaceful struggle.
The plot revolves around the fictional protagonist, Maud Watts, portrayed by Carey Mulligan (The Great Gatsby, Suite Française etc.), a laundry woman who is at first devoted to her work and family (husband and son) but later joins many working class women in the ‘Votes for Women’ movement.
With an outstanding cast including Helena Bonham Carter, Carey Mulligan and Meryl Streep (see above), the expectations were extremely high. However, for me it doesn’t seem like they were reached. Indeed, although this film was extremely emotional and had an undeniable historical value, it was rather dull and could have benefited from a cruder and more realistic approach. The melodramatic aspect of the movie is accentuated by the French Alexandre Desplat’s very illustrative score which comforts the idea that it is an Oscar seeking movie, especially with the presence of Meryl Streep on the movie poster when she only appears on screen for a disappointing less than five minutes.
Ken Loach, the brilliant British social realistic director (Riff Raff, The Angels’ Share etc.) once said about a movie that inspired most of his work: “It made me realise that cinema could be about ordinary people and their dilemmas. It wasn’t a film about stars, or riches or absurd adventures.” It does seem that the aim of Maud’s story was to show the viewer that these women were extremely ordinary and that any woman could relate to them to a certain extent. However, there’s a slight paradox: it is hard to relate to and to see how ordinary these women are when they’re portrayed by some of the most famous faces in Hollywood and British cinema, such as Meryl Streep, Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Anne-Marie Duff, as mentioned above. This outstanding cast and the dull melodramatic aspect of Suffragette make it look like an Oscar-seeking movie.
Unfortunately for director Sarah Gavron, it isn’t powerful and unique enough to be nominated for a statuette. Nevertheless, its historical value and the actors’ brilliant performances are not in doubt, which still make it a recommendable movie.