Now showing in Hong Kong

Film review: Suffragette – women get their voting rights in limp middle-brow drama

Fictionalised characters and missed opportunities in this story of the struggle for sexual equality

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 November, 2015, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 November, 2015, 12:00pm

Sarah Gavron’s film is, amazingly, the first ever to be made about the Suffragettes – the radical movement led by Emmeline Pankhurst in England in the early 1900s to campaign for voting rights for women. It’s also the first to shoot scenes inside the British Houses of Parliament. But despite these selling points, the result is disappointingly a limp middle-brow affair.

Gavron (Brick Lane)  and acclaimed screenwriter Abi Morgan  (The Iron Lady) take the view that rather than focus on Pankhurst (Meryl Streep,  criminally underused in a brief cameo), the story should by driven by fictionalised characters. Carey Mulligan plays Maud, an East End washerwoman who gets drawn into the movement, reluctantly at first, by her fellow worker, Violet (Anne-Marie Duff).  

Once in, she realises the gravity of the situation. This was no peaceful campaign, and the Suffragettes were subjected to imprisonment, beatings and humiliation from the law. It takes Gavron a good hour to get into this by which point the impact is nigh-on lost (not helped by Mulligan’s unconvincing cor’blimey vowels juddering through your bones).

There’s good support from Helena Bonham Carter and Romola Garai as middle-class champions of the cause, though it’s the rather unsung Natalie Press – as real-life martyr Emily Davison – who walks away with the film’s most effective scene. While the end credits – detailing just when women the world over got the vote – make you think, the rest makes you cringe.

Suffragette opens on November 12