"I Would Rather be a Rebel Than a Slave."
There is so much there in that premise. And this film gets a bunch of points for one thing: making this film feel contemporary. The costumes and the setting might as well not be there; audiences have seen this story told again and again, and the creative team seamlessly draws parallels between this pocket of time in the Women’s Suffrage movement to current events in the U.S, Europe and beyond. And during a couple golden moments in the film, you can see the passion involved in placing your life on the line for something you truly believe in embodied in these women on screen.
However, the script tends to shoot itself in the foot in a couple key ways. First, most of the dialogue is expository. There are scenes I would have loved to have seen on the screen, mostly regarding the criminal records of this movement’s ringleaders, that are rattled off by stiff, Scottish-brogued detectives in darkened rooms. Tensions within the movement are described, but never seen. Unintended consequences of the violence these women perpetrate are brought up as possibilities, but rarely considered as true outcomes. It all seems too nice.
Secondly, and on a related note, the majority of the focus is centered around a main character who is not a suffragette (spoilers, she becomes one eventually). Carey Mulligan plays Maude, our quiet, simple protagonist who gets caught up in the movement mostly by coincidence and joins because her friends within the movement support her while her neighbors shun her for even entertaining the idea of giving women the vote. In an interview, the author expresses a desire to give voice to the working women whose stories don’t get told, and I admire this idea on principle, but by making Maude (an outsider) the protagonist, we miss out on seeing many of the more dramatic, morally-grey aspects of this movement; we’re placed in the position of a starry-eyed initiate, one who does what she’s told and rarely thinks of the big picture, which seems like the antithesis of what this movie’s about. Meanwhile more interesting characters, like Helena Bonham Carter’s self-made doctor/rebel leader, are shunted to the side (Bonham Carter, as well as Meryl Streep, light up this film and do not get nearly enough screen time).
It’s a good story, and deserves to be told, but I wish the telling of it had been a bit more…sensational (I know, ugh, but it’s true). Instead of explaining why these women deserve a place in history, the film needed to show me, and do so with a bit more of a critical eye. Even though I agree with the ideas I saw in “Suffragette”, I found myself at times resenting the film; it was telling me how to feel. And resentment isn’t something you should foster in your own ranks.
Something you can set on fire. Is there a real-life Molotov cocktail?
-Drink whenever Maude says her son’s name
-Drink whenever someone talks about the Vote
-Drink when a suffragette gets thrown in jail
-Drink for acts of protest
-Drink when a man argues with a woman
This review was written by Hollis Beck (Krissy Pappau). "Suffragette" was produced by Ruby Films, Pathe, Film 4 and Ingenious Media, and distributed by Focus Features. The film is rated "PG-13" with a runtime of 106 minutes.
Special thanks to my patrons, Caroline Kittredge Faustine, Kaela Mei-Shing Garvin and Antonia Beck! Your support helped make this article happen!