I have to admit that I wasn't particularly anxious to see this movie. Meryl's in it a for just a few minutes, it's getting only decent reviews and there's been a fair amount of controversy surrounding the nature of the film's social concerns. It's difficult not to have one's opinion of a film influenced by these potential biases. Regardless, I did my best to maintain an open mind.
The film follows a young woman named Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) as she finds herself increasingly drawn into and involved in the women's suffrage movement that peaked in the second decade of 20th century London. As her involvement gets her into trouble with the law, Maud finds herself shunned by her husband, neighbors and coworkers, ultimately being prohibited from contact with her own son, George. Her husband Sonny informs her that in her absence, he is incapable of raising their son and has chosen to give him up for adoption. Maud becomes more deeply involved in the suffragette cause, taking greater risks in her attempts to make their cause known, culminating in the death of her ally, Emily Davison.
Meryl has about four minutes of screen time halfway through the picture. I had already seen the entirety of her performance via preview clips, nevertheless it was still enjoyable to see her performance in the context of the entire story.
Although there was some questionable camera work (strange close-ups) and the pacing seemed a bit hectic at times, I found myself rather moved by the story. In particular, Carey Mulligan was very effective at portraying a woman who was essentially desperate. Desperate to imagine herself doing something with her life beyond working in a laundry sweatshop. Mulligan made me feel her sense of helplessness, presenting a broader understanding of what it must have been like for countless women of her position at that time. I found it to be a very effective and memorable performance. Strong supporting performances by Helena Bonham Carter, Anne-Marie Duff and Brendan Gleason all add weight to the film's heavy subject matter.
I don't want to get too deep into some of the controversy surrounding the fact that this film depicts the plight of white women only. The beef isn't without merit, but I hope people consider the nature of the era this film aims to depict. Circa 1915 London, I'm not sure how many women of color were on the front lines of the specific struggle of the women presented in this movie. If we look at pictures and film reels of protests from the time, I think we'll find the historical figures involved accurately represented in Suffragette.
This isn't to say that a film addressing the wider landscape of voting equality wouldn't be an admirable endeavor. Particularly in the United States, where the women's suffrage movement often had a contentious relationship with the black suffrage movement, it would be interesting to see how a film would negotiate the historical delicacies that today many might consider ironically oppressive. Meryl and Kathy Bates better get crackin' on that Susan B. Anthony/Elizabeth Cady Stanton vehicle.
Regardless of the film's criticisms and thus far tepid box office returns, Suffragette, like any film which attempts to bring attention to the struggle of a subjugated population, is definitely a picture worth seeing and appreciating.