Suffragette *1/2

Misguided look at the women’s suffrage movement in England lacks logic and a decent story.

Is it worth $10? No

Films such as “Suffragette” should make us think about how far we’ve come socially, and encourage us to make sure we’re not making similar mistakes in the present. But what “Suffragette” should be and what it actually is could not be more different, with the end result being an insufferable frustration of a movie.

In 1912 London, Maud (Carey Mulligan) is a loving wife to Sonny (Ben Whishaw) and mother to George (Adam Michael Dodd) who hates her job as a laundress. Society views her as submissive to the men in her world, a second-class citizen at a time at which the men are nothing to brag about. Violet (Anne-Marie Duff), a co-worker, and later Edith (Helena Bonham Carter), a chemist, invite Maud to suffragette meetings, at which she learns of the unfair struggle women have faced to receive the right to vote. For 50 years they’ve been peacefully petitioning to no avail. Now more militant actions are needed, says suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep, who’s only in one scene but is still on the film’s poster). Slowly, and to the chagrin of Sonny and every other man in the movie except Edith’s husband (Finbar Lynch), Maud becomes involved in the cause.

One must question the suffragettes’ actions. They’re resorting to violence – rocks through windows, blowing up mailboxes, etc., always while others are not around so no one gets hurt but their point is heard. Because the right thing to do is obvious and we agree with their cause, as viewers we’re inclined to root for the heroines and think it’s okay to blow stuff up. And granted, they have few other recourses because they’re being ignored. But think about this objectively: They’re an organization that believes in a cause and, eventually, will be rewarded for their actions. This sends a message to future groups – whether we agree with them or not – to also commit violent acts of protest, because if it worked for one cause it can/should work for another. It’s a dangerous precedent to set.

That said, Maud is the biggest issue of all in “Suffragette.” There’s nothing about her personality early on that suggests she’s a fighter. Accordingly, she hesitates to become a suffragette, even after going to a few meetings. She’s clearly not that into it. Yet she keeps going, and the more she goes the more she loses both personally and professionally. We’re supposed to sympathize with her situation, but as bad things keep happening we can’t help but question why she continues doing something she’s not that interested in to begin with. How could director Sarah Gavron and screenwriter Abi Morgan (“The Iron Lady”) not give their main character a motive? At one point Maud says she wants equal rights and mentions not receiving equal pay, which is much more ambitious than just the right to vote. She never mentions these things again.

Speaking of which: If you’re going to make a movie about women wanting the right to vote, allow at least one woman to express why the right to vote is important to her. This should be obvious: If these characters are sacrificing their families, jobs and livelihood for this cause, a smidge of character development explaining why they give a damn about it is in order.

What a misfire “Suffragette” is. The women who sacrificed everything to get pig-headed men to view them as intelligent and worthwhile human beings deserve much better.

Did you know?
Helena Bonham Carter’s great-grandfather was H.H. Asquith, the prime minister of England in 1912 who was against voting rights for women.

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