Review: Suffragette

Last Updated on August 5, 2021


PLOT: A young factory worker (Carey Mulligan) in pre-WW1 England is drawn into the suffrage movement, where she becomes part of the fight to get women the vote and ensure future generations of women get the equal rights she’s denied on a daily basis.

REVIEW: There’s a sobering epilogue to SUFFRAGETTE that proves just how relevant a movie like this is in our modern era. It’s simple enough – it simply lists off the years countries gave women the vote. What’s shocking is how developed countries like Switzerland only gave them the right in 1971, while many other countries have still not changed their laws to give women so basic a human right. So, while SUFFRAGETTE may be about events that took place one hundred years ago, don’t for a second think it’s a mere period piece.

However, director Sarah Gavron has not made a didactic film. SUFFRAGETTE is a tremendously entertaining and often incredibly moving (and humane) story about one woman’s realization that the fight for one’s rights often comes with a heavy cost, but one that must be paid if society’s going to move forward.

Star Carey Mulligan is terrific as the (fictional) young suffragette, a washerwoman who knows she’ll never escape the direness of her existence, but nevertheless holds-on to the seemingly meager hope that society will finally make a change and give women the rights that are due to them. Truly, her story is a heartbreaking one, with her slaving away in a gruesome industrial laundry for mere pennies, while being preyed upon by her lecherous boss, who she knows will dismiss her at the slightest provocation, dooming her family to starvation. Her daily sacrifices are sobering, with her not only putting up with appalling behavior, but also having to turn a blind eye at the fact that her boss is a full-on pedophile, attacking the young girls who are essentially indentured servants. Her only respite is the nights she spends at home with her (initially) kind husband (Ben Whislaw) and her adoring son.

While Mulligan is maybe a tad too fresh-faced to be playing someone who’s slaved in a factory for fifteen years; she’s nothing if not sympathetic. Anne-Marie Duff is similarly good as Mulligan’s more radical and toughened-up co-worker and suffragette, with her having the extra hurdle of needing to support four kids and dealing with an abusive husband.

At the same time, Gavron’s film (written by THE IRON LADY & SHAME’s Abi Morgan) casts a broader net, looking at how suffrage effective all classes, with Helena Bonham Carter on board as one of the more educated suffragettes, who at least has a kind and supportive husband, while Romola Garai is an aristocratic, high-born member. All the ladies are terrific, with Meryl Streep being especially effective in a one-scene, powerhouse cameo as real-life suffrage leader Emmeline Pankhurst.

Another interesting factor here is how men are depicted. Given the era, the portrayal is not always flattering, but it’s probably quite accurate and never anything less than three-dimensional. Whislaw – as Mulligan’s husband – proves to be a bit spineless but it’s hard not to sympathize with him somewhat, as he’s simply uneducated and frightened of both losing his likelihood and what he perceives as his manhood. The most interesting role outside of Mulligan’s goes to Brendan Gleeson, as the police inspector put in charge of shutting down the suffrage movement, with them being considered radicalized terrorists due to their use of civil disobedience as a weapon. While he’s party to some despicable acts, Gleeson is not portraying a villain, but rather a man who’s simply doing a job he finds distasteful, and Gleeson evokes a complex figure – far more sophisticated than the two-dimensional way a similar character could have been portrayed otherwise.

While SUFFRAGETTE winds up being quite a sobering watch, it’s an important, worthwhile film in the same way that something like BEASTS OF NO NATION, 12 YEARS A SLAVE or SCHINDLER’S LIST is. It shines a harsh light on behavior that still exists in some form or another, and drives home the point that regardless of your background, race or sex, the fight for equal rights is universal and one that should never be ignored.




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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.