When America’s sweetheart Jennifer Lawrence recently wrote in Lenny newsletter about the staggering pay gap between male and female actresses, she admitted that she hadn’t spoken publicly about the issue previously because she was afraid of being disliked. The film Suffragette, while a well-acted piece, presents the suffrage movement of the early twentieth century meekly, also seemingly afraid of coming on too strongly to perhaps its male backers and viewers. The struggle for womens’ right to vote is an integral part of feminist history (recent history, too, in Saudi Arabia) and it is tragic that screenwriter Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady, Shame) and director Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane) culled such a watered down production of the crusade for change.
Though the film is marketed as an ensemble piece, it is entirely told from the wide-eyed gaze of Maud Watts (the exceptional Carey Mulligan), a young mother who has slaved away as a laundress in a factory since adolescence. While she toils away tirelessly at work she hears hushed rumblings of weekly suffragette meetings and before long she becomes passionately and illicitly engaged with the collective. Her fellow activists (played by some of the U.K.’s finest actresses, including Anne-Marie Duff, Romola Garai and Helena Bonham Carter) are propelled into increasingly violent activism following a fervid and zealous speech by the unlawful pariah Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep). The women sacrifice their health, jobs, families, and, in some cases, their lives in order to wage battle for equal voting rights.
Those brave, selfless women deserve to be honoured by a film that’s better than this conventional melodrama.