We're in every home. We're half the human race. You can't stop us all.
This film captures the campaign for suffrage for women at a pivotal moment. It’s the moment that the movement turns violent, which is something like the most difficult moment to dramatize in any movie about a social cause. But Suffragette does a good job with its material. Carey Mulligan, an actress I love even in sub-par material, is given a really great role here. She’s a poverty stricken mother forced to work long hours in grueling factory conditions and face constant sexual harassment to boot. She’s a reluctant activist, at first, only being identified as a suffragette via a series of accidents. But once forced to the position she finds herself transfigured by it. It’s a brilliant, emotionally raw, completely sincere performance; anything less would have crippled the film. The supporting cast is also good. Helena Bonham Carter is, in my opinion, career best as an impassioned activist. She never overplays, but she gives her character an arrogant, regal nature that works brilliantly. Anne-Marie Duff gives what should be a star-making performance as a conflicted suffragette, impassioned, but unsure of the increasing violence of the movement. The film has no shortage of really wonderful scenes; Mulligan finds a real rawness in the scenes with her young son – a scene of the two communicating through a window during a rainstorm is nearly too painful to watch. And the film lets the disturbing elements of the story shine through; a scene in which Mulligan finally resists the sexual advances of her employer is thrilling and gripping. Two sequences that detail the conditions inside the women’s prison are pretty harrowing, particularly a scene involving a forced feeding. The only real flaw in the film is Brendan Gleeson’s character, an irritable police detective tasked with stopping the suffragette’s violent activities. Gleeson is a great actor and he does what he can, but the character is poorly written and the climax of the film uses him in a really obnoxious way. But otherwise, I found the film to be quite moving; it’s the sincerity of the performances, particularly Mulligan’s, that make this film work. The script could easily become over didactic or preachy, but Mulligan always pulls it back to center with the beating heart of her character. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – the script isn’t perfect, but Mulligan’s brilliant lead performance keeps us focused on the human stories at the heart of this story of the brave women who lead the fight for equality. 3 ½ stars.