I can tell you that Suffragette is an amazing film because it is. I can tell you Carey Mulligan and the entire cast are brilliant and give stellar performances because they do. I can tell you what the film IS all day.
Instead, I’m going to tell you what Suffragette is NOT.
Suffragettes were not Mrs. Winifred Banks in Mary Poppins. These women fought with their lives for the right to vote. They were beaten, arrested, tortured with force feeding, fired from their jobs, removed from their homes. They were not women who had tea parties and wore pretty outfits while pestering their husbands to be treated like equals. This film is based on the lives of real women who worked in life-threatening conditions for less than a man and couldn’t fight for their right to safer conditions because they were born with the wrong anatomy.
This is not a film about the suffragette movement throughout the entire UK. There has been criticism of the film and it’s lack of diversity. The thing is, this film represents a particular group, in London, at a very particular time and place. It would be impossible to put the stories of every suffragette in every corner of the United Kingdom into one film. What this film does do is open the doors for more films to be made, for more discussions to be had. While it shines the light on these particular women, it allows us to dig deeper to find the stories of women from all walks of life. It begs us to ask questions, to wonder why, after all these years, women aren’t considered the equal to a man.
This is not a period piece. Yes, it takes place in 1912, yes the film is true to the period, but the costumes and sets are merely background noise. There are scenes in the film where the suffragettes are beaten, their hair down around their faces, their clean dresses ripped, and when you look at them, you forget the year the film takes place and realize these women could be in 2015 as easily as 1912. The costumes do not become secondary characters in the film, which allows audiences to forget the year and focus on the issues in play.
This is not a Meryl Streep film. When filmgoers in the United States hear Meryl Streep is in a film, we automatically assume she’s the center of the story. This is not the case in Suffragette. Ms. Streep appears for three minutes, max. Yes, she has one of the most moving scenes in the film. Watching her deliver an inspiring speech high above a crowd of women does leave you with goosebumps. But make no mistake, it’s the performances by Carey Mulligan and Helena Bonham Carter that will leave you breathless.
This is not a perfect film. Like every film, one has its flaws. Carey Mulligan’s character Maud Watts seems to have an overabundance of negative fortune. You want to say “enough is enough already!” as she is kicked down again and again and again. Mulligan plays the role brilliantly, however, and you’re able to look beyond her constant misfortune to the bigger picture.
This is not a feel-good story. There is no “happy ending”. You will leave the film frustrated, with your eyes stinging from tears and a pit in your stomach. You’ll wonder how we’ve come so far, yet we’re no where near where we need to be. You’ll watch the credits scrolling past and wonder how, in 2015, there are still places where women can’t vote. You’ll wonder how, in 2015, women are still paid less than men. You’ll wonder how, in 2015, reproductive rights are still a battle. You’ll wonder how those women would react if they saw the world today. You will be worked up. And that is exactly what this film should do: it should be inspiring women (and men) to get involved in change, especially during the upcoming election season. It should create discourse and discussions. It should inspire protests (as it did during the London premiere.)
What you need to know:
Suffragette opens in New York and LA on October 23, with limited release nationwide. Full nationwide release Thanksgiving weekend.
Trigger warning: there are intense scenes of violence in the film as well as rape of a minor and torture. I would not suggest taking very young children to this film. If I had to put an age on it, I would say 16 or older, and be prepared for questions.
Suffragette is rated PG-13 with a run time of 106 minutes.
I’ll have more on Suffragette, including my interview with the writer, producers, and director in the next few weeks.