Rated: PG-13 for some intense violence, thematic elements, brief strong language and partial nudity. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: October 23, 2015 Released by: Focus Features
Director Sarah Gavron and writer Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady) have the formidable, increasingly blustery Carey Mulligan (of the powerfully scourging enslavement Shame, Far From The Madding Crowd, The Great Gatsby, Inside Llewyn Davis among her more other noteworthy recent parts) in this early streamlined 20th Century U.K. import when misogyny was prevalent.
Suffragette (as distinguished from the less agitating suffragists) is a crisply mounted (though melancholic looking) period piece chronicling women's social and political union (WSPU) as foot soldiers perilously went underground against a rough commonwealth in the quest for equal rights (they didn't get the right to vote for another fifteen years). Echoes of more dramatically nourished and more conclusive pictures like North Country and Norma Rae are evident from the squalor and resiliency (also depicted in Hunger and Les Miserables). And, there should be some distinction between the working and middle classes, as even many men were put in a similar position by the latter.
Mulligan's Maud Watts (an aggregate of uneducated, thoughtful characters) is a working mother in a laundry with adorable son George and husband ( a rather well-shaded Ben Whishaw) who also toils in a place where bosses and foremen are sexual predators. Her decision to come to a younger distaff colleague's aid puts her on a track to join a more militant feminist sect (which involves a bombing in a startling sequence) than she might have expected. Anne-Marie Duff (Nowhere Boy, The Magdalene Sisters) as Violet helps initiate her into what will be a life-altering experience.
Head activist Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep in a very brief turn making a splash from a balcony) emphasizes being a "rebel" and a "lawmaker" rather than "slave" or "lawbreaker". She and organizer pharmacist Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter) know how to cause trouble in the name of voting rights for women. But, it's Mulligan whose Maud goes through a darker underprivileged stage after her interference causes estrangement from son George and angry son who both question her rationality. It's a confidently inflected performance in spite of the familiarity of desperation in a fall from grace where job and hearth are sacrificed.
For a while in Suffragette a certain crucial immediacy is felt and the austerity of social structure particularly in Maud's interaction with a cautionary counseling officer (sympathetically, but resolutely evinced by Brendan Gleeson). A tangential figure in Emily Wilding Davison (Natalie Blessing) becomes more vivid when offed at the Epsom Derby in 1913 by King George's horse. The manner to make this subject matter compelling (full gender equality is still way off) may have worked better from a point-of-view of a Davison or Mrs. P (not to diminish what Mulligan establishes with such a vulnerably grey, if persevering character) as male dominance continues in Hollywood and many other industries.