LOOKING back, it seems Suffragette’s writers couldn’t quite decide what they wanted from their script.
In part, they wanted to chronicle the history of the brave women who built bombs, campaigned in the street, and were repeatedly jailed while fighting for the right to vote. On the other hand, there was a strong inclination to focus on early 20th century issues that still apply to a 21st century audience: the wage gap, sexual assault in the workplace, police brutality.
One gets this sickened feeling throughout the film that comes with the knowledge that little has truly changed. That fury could have been crafted into a wakeup call of sorts; instead, it all gets insultingly wrapped up, implying that gaining the right to vote acted like a magic wand to women’s issues.
A fictional story inspired by the foot soldiers of the early feminist movement in the U.K., Suffragette introduces us to Maude Watts (Carey Mulligan), a washerwoman, wife, and mother. We see Maude bear witness to and experience sexual assault in the workplace; we see her poor working conditions, hear stories of the dangers of such an environment; she mentions making less than a man at her job.
Nowhere in the story, however, do we really hear why Maude wants the opportunity to cast a vote.
“All my life I’ve been respectful,” she spits. “I’ve done what men told me. Well, I can’t have that anymore.”
It’s a good line, but it’s not enough. With still-relevant issues placed front and center, it implies that, if that’s what these women were fighting for, it means nothing.
Mulligan works as best she can within a clunky, didactic script plagued with flat characters.
I longed for complexity, particularly in the villainous men; rather, we’re presented with bad guys and good women, detracting from a true understanding of the time and conditions, vastly oversimplifying.
When it comes out on DVD, make a drinking game and take a shot every time a dude says something along the lines of “I’m a man! You’re a woman! You do as I say!” You’ll be sober for about as long as Meryl Streep is on-screen as leader Emmeline Pankhurst (‘round five minutes).
Helena Bonham Carter shines in her role as the bomb-building aspiring doctor Edith Ellyn, bending with a script that throws curveballs and jerky character development out of nowhere. Anne-Marie Duff brings an elusive sparkle and weary warrior spirit to Violet Miller. It’s quite fun to watch them blow things up together.
Suffragette has already been criticized for the glaring whiteness of its cast and for an idiotic PR move in which white actresses posed in shirts with the Pankhurst quote, “I’d rather be a rebel than a slave.”
As the credits roll, however, perhaps the biggest insult comes: a timeline of women’s suffrage around the world, those little dates feeling like a soggy Band-Aid thrown on issues that haven’t gone away at all.
Are we to believe that winning the right to vote closed the wage gap, protected countless women from sexual assault both in and outside the workplace? That there aren’t women dying in unsafe working conditions around the world to this day?
We sit here in a country with warehouses full of untested rape kits, wearing fast-fashion button-ups made by women and children working in potentially worse conditions than Maude’s.
This bitter feminist was exhausted by the end of it and left feeling a little used by an attempt at a neatly tied bow on something that can’t be wrapped up. – Anna Chandler