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“Suffragette” movie review

By Jeff Boudreaux

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The British plight for women’s rights is the focus of “Suffragette,” one woman’s unalienable determination to make a difference for not only herself, but for all females. In an era where women were expected to say and do what their husbands told them to, it was an unbelievable risk for any woman to break out from the family-mold and desire that their own voice be heard. Whether it was the right to vote (as that struggle is the centerpiece of this film), or just simply the right to do one’s job without the threat of a male supervisor making constant advances. As this film proves in retrospect, women have come an awful long way since then. Some will argue that women all over the world are still not treated fairly, or given proper wages as compared to a man. This is why, it is even more important to place yourself in the shoes of one woman – Maud Watts.

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Maud (Carey Mulligan) works in a rundown laundry along with her husband Sonny (Ben Whishaw), under some rather harsh and unsavory conditions. The two have a child at home, but that doesn’t stop Maud from following her co-worker Violet (Anne-Marie Duff) to a couple of demonstrations where women are protesting their lack of equality with men, more specifically the right to vote. Time and time again, they are denied. What initially starts out as nothing more than a night out with the girls, turns into something more personal to Maud, something dear to her heart. Under the tutelage of Mrs. Pankhurst (Meryl Streep): Maud, Violet, Edith (Helena Bonham Carter), and all of London’s women who aren’t content with being housewives, risk family and even their own lives to attain the freedom they desire.

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Carey Mulligan easily gives one of the best female performances of the year as Maud Watts, a woman who forsakes her husband and, most importantly, her child to become a part of the women’s suffrage movement in the early 1900’s. Which brings me to an issue I have undertaken with the character, not Ms. Mulligan’s performance. I do not feel that the activism journey of Maud Watts is fully developed and I don’t completely buy the sudden change from a loving mother and laundry woman, to a rock-throwing, mailbox-bombing suffragette. (Who knew they were domestic terrorists in those days?!) It’s as if she doesn’t have enough onscreen reasons to give up everything she has to take part in this effort. This critique does not apply to the other ragamuffin-type women embroiled in the cause, including one of the most earnest roles for Helena Bonham Carter in a long time as Edith Ellyn, a pharmacist’s wife (and ersatz doctor!). Rounding out the cast is Meryl Streep as Mrs. Pankhurst, leader of the movement. Although prominently featured on the film’s poster and much talked about throughout the film, she appears in only one scene.

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There are some terrifically enacted scenes, including Maud’s impassioned plea to her son Georgie, as he’s about to be given up for adoption, pleading with the boy to remember her name and to find her one day! There’s also her fiery speech to Inspector Steed (Brendan Gleeson) during a five-day jail tenure, where she asks him to give an account for why he or any of the policemen did not even attempt to stop the brutal beatings of these women in the town square.

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While the film is inspiring and shows the lengths that courageous women went through to merely light a pathway to an eventual securing of the vote, I can’t help but feel the disconnect of the main character and her relation to the movement. And, I’ll be honest with you, it’s the strangest situation since I absolutely loved her performance. At the very least, it shows what a great actress that Carey Mulligan has become, when she can thoroughly shine in light of character deficiencies. Nevertheless, “Suffragette’ serves as an enlightening historical document of one of our world’s most subtly dark times.

** ½ (two and a half out of four stars)

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