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Movie Review

'Suffragette' Could Have Been A Lot Better

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Suffragette is not nearly as good a movie as it should be, largely because it never invites us into the world it portrays enough to let us feel, rather than just observe, what is going on.

The time is the 1910s and the place is London, and we do learn some valuable things about what a foreign world that was. Women were denied a lot more than the right to vote-- their children were regarded mostly as the property of the fathers, and to a large extent, women were denied freedom of speech, even if it didn't extend to throwing rocks through windows and dropping bombs into public mailboxes. As a matter of fact, it never explains why the particular windows were selected or why it was considered necessary to attack the mail. The battle for the vote had been going on since the American Civil War, and a lot of the story had already occurred.

The feelings of a lot of the characters are unclear. Is Carey Mulligan's husband sympathetic to the cause or only to his wife? Is detective Brendan Gleeson restrained only by his loyalty to the law, or does he feel awkward about exposing women to the brutalities of the law, or is he secretly sympathetic to the cause? We can't understand what the opposition is like.

And story is unclear, structurally. Suffragette ends rather arbitrarily, at a point where it would make more sense if the heroine was Helena Bonham Carter, who at least plays an actual historical figure. As does Meryl Streep, whose entire role consists of a single public speech less than five minutes long.

And I wondered whether forced feeding in prison was deliberately made to look so much like waterboarding, or whether the resemblance was inevitable.

Still, we need to know what voting rights have cost in the past, and Suffragette does a better job of telling us that than any other movie I can think of.