Movie review of “Suffragette”: Blending gritty fact with fiction, Sarah Gavron’s new film — starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter and Meryl Streep — dramatizes the struggle for women’s rights in 1912 London. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
“There’s another way of living this life,” says — or, rather, wishes — Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), a young Londoner in 1912 who’s slowly awakening. Just 24, Maud is a wife and mother who works long hours in a steaming, hellish laundry, barely seeing the child she pays neighbors to watch for her. Her salary is meager, her boss lecherous, her body weary. “Suffragette,” directed by Sarah Gavron, is the story of Maud’s realization that, though she has no rights (she learns, midway through the film, that she has no legal claim to her own son), she’s not alone — and that, perhaps, her life might change if women could vote.
Like Ava DuVernay’s “Selma,” “Suffragette” tells the story of a crucial moment in history that’s gotten little cinematic attention: Upon hearing the word “suffragette,” many of us think of Mrs. Banks in “Mary Poppins.” But, as Gavron’s affecting film shows us, there was nothing lighthearted about this movement: Women demonstrators were flung to the ground, imprisoned, violently force-fed during hunger strikes, martyred (like Emily Wilding Davison, whose real-life story we see in the film). Maud, both drawn to the movement and frightened by it (her husband, thin and pinched, is furious at her involvement), at one point says she can’t go to a meeting. “You can’t not,” a friend says.
Though “Suffragette” isn’t always graceful in its blending of fact and fiction (the events depicted are real, but many of the characters — including Maud — are composites or invented), it’s always compelling; you feel grateful, watching, that this story is being told at all. Mulligan, as always, brings a devastating gentleness to her role (a scene between Maud and her son will pull your heart in two), and Helena Bonham Carter, as a suffragette who prefers to call herself a “soldier,” finds something hard and bright in her usual eccentric screen persona.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Suffragette,’ with Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Brendan Gleeson, Anne-Marie Duff, Ben Whishaw, Meryl Streep. Directed by Sarah Gavron, from a screenplay by Abi Morgan. 106 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some intense violence, thematic elements, brief strong language and partial nudity. Pacific Place, Lincoln Square, Guild 45th.
And Meryl Streep, though she’s only in the movie for a couple of minutes, plays legendary suffragette leader Emmeline Pankhurst as a mesmerizing beacon of light. “Never surrender,” she tells Maude in their brief encounter; it’s as if she’s imprinting the words on the younger woman’s soul.
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