[Screen It]

"SUFFRAGETTE"
(2015) (Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: An early 20th century British woman must contend with the ramifications of joining the suffragette movement.
PLOT:
It's 1912 and 24-year-old Maud Watts (CAREY MULLIGAN) has worked in London's Glasshouse Laundry since she was seven. The hours are long and the conditions tough, but her husband, Sonny (BEN WHISHAW), also works there and they live in a small flat with their young son, George (ADAM MICHAEL DODD).

Maud has tried to steer clear of the local suffragette movement that's striving to secure voting rights for women, but that changes when she sees a coworker, Violet Miller (ANNE-MARIE DUFF), at a local protest that turns violent. Violet convinces Maud to join the cause, and she hesitantly does, first meeting other suffragettes such as physician Edith Ellyn (HELENA BONHAM CARTER) -- whose husband, Hugh (FINBAR LYNCH), fully supports her -- and others including Miss Withers (AMANDA LAWRENCE) and Emily Davison (NATALIE PRESS).

Maud's newfound interest is only cemented when she hears the words of the Women's Social and Political Union movement's leader, Emmeline Pankhurst (MERYL STREEP). But her involvement doesn't sit well with her mean boss, Norman Taylor (GEOFF BELL), or Sonny who becomes increasingly concerned about and then irritated by her actions.

That only gets worse when government officials hire Inspector Arthur Steed (BRENDAN GLEESON) to observe and harass the suffragettes, with Emmeline's calls for increasingly violent protest only further fanning the flames. As Maud continues with her involvement, she must contend not only with him, but also the ramifications this has on her marriage and access to her son.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
As is the case with most things in life, it's all a matter of perspective when it comes to protests and even acts of related violence. When you're on the side that's been wronged and you're fighting the good fight, you're deemed freedom fighters and heroic figures of a revolution.

If you're on the side of the status quo at the time, however, those opposing you and threatening to overturn the apple cart, so to speak, are viewed as criminals and even terrorists. Just look at how we in the U.S. view the American Revolution vs. how I'm guessing the British thought about it back in the day.

Of course, history and its 20/20 hindsight nearly always proves who was right and who was wrong in such matters, be that the aforementioned Independence Day or the Civil War and then the Civil Rights movement. One such cause that's nearly been lost in history is the suffragette movement that really came to a head in the late 19th century and early 20th century in Britain.

For those oblivious to the fact or who simply weren't paying attention back in history class, women (even those in the white majority of most countries) weren't allowed to vote in elections. Following the lead of those in New Zealand and Australia, women in England starting to organize in order to get such rights for themselves, using tactics ranging from civil disobedience to arrest and jail time, hunger strikes and even violence including the use of bombs.

That story now comes to the big screen, part fictionalized, part true story in the simply titled "Suffragette." Director Sarah Gavron works from a script penned by Abi Morgan that focuses on the fictional character of Maud Watts (a terrific Carey Mulligan) who toils away at a literal sweatshop of a laundry with her husband, Sonny (Ben Whishaw), with whom she has a small boy back in their tiny flat.

While her boss (Geoff bell) is a womanizing tyrant, she hasn't given much thought to the suffragette movement until she accidentally finds herself in the midst of a storefront window breaking campaign that just so happens to feature one of her coworkers (Anne-Marie Duff). That woman convinces Mau to join her and others in the cause (including those played by Helena Bonham Carter, Amanda Lawrence, Natalie Press and more), and Maud's initially hesitant involvement grows in resolve once she sees what these women are trying to accomplish and what they're up against.

That not only includes the scorn of family members, neighbors and strangers, but also the government trying to stop them, epitomized here by the presence of an inspector (Brendan Gleeson) hired to track their activities and find out their plans. As in most such flicks about those who fight for social causes, the protagonist risks everything in doing so, thus making her sympathetic to viewers.

That's particularly true in one scene where her husband -- who has every right to do so as decreed by the law back then -- has decided to give their son to adoptive parents since he views Maud no longer fit to be a mother. Tearful and realizing she can do nothing about this, she tells her young boy her real name and not to forget it so that he can find her in the future. It's a heartbreaking scene and one that the talented Mulligan nails without any sort of ugly melodrama.

The actress is the unifying force throughout the film, giving it most of its humanity, although interesting enough considering the nature of his "squash the rebels" character, the always terrific Gleeson manages to do some of the same from the other side.

Story-wise, the film sort of seems to end with a plot point that feels more like a midway point event than a culminating one. That is, until one realizes - thanks to footage the filmmakers insert at the conclusion - that what just transpired on screen really did happen in reality and turned out to be a pivotal moment in the cause. And with a roll of dates on the screen showing when women were finally given the right to vote in countries around the world, you see just how big that was.

Overall, the film is good, especially due to Mulligan who should likely receive some award nomination love come that time of year, and it's certainly an important reminder of what people have done and can do to get equal rights. "Suffragette" rates as a 6 out of 10.




Reviewed October 22, 2015 / Posted October 30, 2015


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