Tuesday 13 October 2015

Review: Suffragette

World of Blackout Film Review

Suffragette Poster

Cert: 12A / 106 mins / Dir. Sarah Gavron / Trailer
WoB Rating: 5/7

A decent-sized crowd was seated for the opening night of Sarah Gavron's Suffragette on its opening night, and if it can draw those numbers on traditionally-quiet Monday, it bodes well for both the box-office and exposure of the film. And for obvious reasons, Suffragette deserves every bit of that exposure as An Important Film™ which manages to convey its message without preaching or shaming. I could name several directors who could learn a lot from this, one of whom had a film in the trailers beforehand.

Focusing on the women's suffrage movement in 1912 and its transition from verbal persuasion to physical activism, the screenplay stays at 'street level', following the Suffragette's escalating protests from stones through shop windows, to (non-fatality-inducing) explosives and the unintentional death of Emily Wilding Davison at the Epsom Derby in 1913. It's a relatively short timespan to cover in the life of the organisation but the film knowingly treats it as one step forward, from being a source of gossip and disapproval to an unequivocal force in British politics.

Now as we live in (relatively) liberal times, it would be easy to make the film a mawkish and self-congratulatory history lesson, whereby the audience could leave all feeling very pleased that the battle's won and everyone's now equal (…). Instead, screenwriter Abi Morgan raises fascinatingly uncomfortable questions about the morality of the Suffragette's techniques. It's easy for 2015's audience to know that the movement wanted the right thing for the right reasons, but in our current climate it's not easy to say how far we'd go to achieve the same level of persuasion. Placards and breaking shop-windows are on one level, but when an organised group uses explosives to gain political recognition (irrespective of injuries/fatalities), you'd be hard pushed to argue that it hasn't branched into terrorism.

The 't'-word seems very extreme of course, but so were the Suffragette's actions in the early 20th century. Even the same deeds in 2015 of detonating devices inside post-boxes would attract major media attention. As the Suffragette's aims at the time were seen as utterly outlandish by the establishment, their actions were treated with equal incredulity. As mentioned above; all the right things, for all the right reasons - but what's the right way of going about it? However, it's a train of thought that the film only pushes in its second act, and which then gives way to the ongoing historical plot.

The only real drawback I found is that Suffragette isn't particularly cinematic. Don't get me wrong, it looks absolutely fantastic with all the grit and grime you'd expect of London's East End in 1912, but it looks like fantastic television. This isn't to disparage TV necessarily, especially in this day and age, but the film has the tight-shots and restrictive feel of a Sunday night drama. As it turns out, the subject matter of the film itself helps to carry this off, but there's always the feeling that the message is grander than the medium. The final scenes are a painful victory, and the film ends with archive footage of the funeral procession of Emily Wilding Davison through London's packed streets. Footage which, if I'm being honest, I found more affecting than the preceding film.
But obviously it's still very, very good.

[ Actually, the only real bugbear I had with the film is the speech that Meryl Streep gives as Emmeline Pankhurst to the amassed crowd from her balcony window. There's some quite horrific ADR at work here, and while the dialogue has been painstakingly matched, it's clear that the passion and determination we hear in her voice weren't there when the scene was filmed, as her facial movements just don't match. And it's a real shame because Streep is one of the finest actresses working, but it takes the wind out of the film's sails a little when it looks like she's miming to her own speech. ]

Is this film worth paying £10+ to see?
It's worth paying to see, but whether that's full-whack at the cinema will be up to you.
Cheap-Tuesdays, if you're unsure

Well, I don't like the cinema. Buy it, rent it, or wait for it to be on telly?
A one to buy but again, once it drops in price.

Does this film represent the best work of the leading performer(s)?
Helena Bonham Carter and Carey Mulligan are awards-worthy, here.
Everyone else doesn't quite have enough to do

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
A little.
Although it depends what we're disagreeing on

Oh, and is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

…but what's the Star Wars connection?
Suffragette stars Meryl Streep, who also appeared in 1990's Postcards From The Edge, which was written by Carrie 'Last Princess of Alderaan' Fisher.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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