Review: ‘Suffragette’ Trite, Torpid, and Terrible

There is no denying why Suffragette is an important film. Even though we live in a 21st-Century world where women are capable of achieving anything, gender bias has never stopped spreading it’s toxins. So then, you ask yourself this question, why would I want to watch Suffragette, a movie based on the fight british fight for voting rights in the early part of the 20th century? Then you see Meryl Streep is in the movie. I’ve seen her on the poster and she’s always fantastic in her projects … right? While she does play an important role in Sufragette (Emmeline Parkhurst- the leader of the Suffragette movement), Meryl Streep is on the screen for no more the four minutes during the picture. Are you a little confused at this point? To be honest, I am as confused as you are about Suffragette. Normally, this would be a movie where I would be gushing to tell you all the reasons why you should seek it out, but as I type this, I’m literally at a loss for words. It’s really a shame, because while Suffragette is about a topic so relevant in our modern world, I can’t in good conscious recommend it.

Is the movie based on a true story? I wouldn’t go that far, more like based on actual events. Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan) is merely a fictional composite meant to represent women of that time. Remember, that this was a time period where women would work and be exploited by both their bosses and husbands until they passed on. Emmeline Parkhurst (Leader of the British Suffragette movement played by Meryl Streep) suggests that ladies stop being so genteel and start causing Havoc. Then of course you have Emily Wilding Davison (Natalie Press), who thought she could draw attention to the movement by literally throwing herself in front of the King’s Horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby and dying for the cause. She certainly was right about drawing attention to the cause.

Are you still baffled as to what possible problem I could have with Suffragette? Well, it begins with the contrasting styles of storytelling in this picture. In the beginning, we are front row to one of the greatest struggles that currently is still taking place around the world: equality for woman. As the story unfolds, we bear atrocity after atrocity leveed towards women (i.e. stripping parental rights, sexual deviance) so intensely that one couldn’t help but want to apologize to all women for what men have put them through. If director Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane) and screenwriter Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady) had just stuck that narrative, we would have a movie unparalleled in 2015. However, they choose to make this movie neat and tight and wrap it up with a nice Hollywood formulaic ending. Why? Why would you do this? Haven’t we heard of the phrase less is more? One can’t help but wondering if the ending is another example of studio interference.

Abi Morgan – the screenwriter, is also a source of what ails Suffragette. She attempts to tell a balanced story about a very important time in our history focusing on multiple members of the British Suffragette movement. Her story certainly discusses Carey Mulligan (Maude Wills) but it also focuses on Anne Marie Duff  (Violet Miller ) , Helena Bonham Carter (Edith Ellyn) , Meryl Streep (Emmeline Pankhurst) , and  Natalie Press (Emily Wilding Davison). The problem with this is that the only person that the audience remotely cares about is Wills because she has the most interesting story to tell. Why would you focus on these other characters if, quite frankly, the characters are a bore? I understand that the Suffragette movement had multiple influential women who played key roles but it’s not like Suffragette pretends to be a historically accurate. Suffragette is an example of a movie that just does way too much and in that process ends up losing a majority of the audience.

One shining light in the doldrums of Suffragette is Carey Mulligan. Even in a sea of issues that weigh this film down, Mulligan’s performance is another example of talent always rising to the top. Mulligan takes a cumbersome script that focuses on every single female (or so it would seem) in the Suffragette movement and manages to radiate on screen. She brings a fire and intensity to this role that quite frankly I’ve never seen from her (even when she was nominated for an Oscar in 2009 in An Education). With awards season in full swing, she certainly will be a topic of discussion.

In the end, although Suffragette discusses a topic that is very relevant in 2015, it’s simply not relevant enough to warrant paying to see it this weekend.


Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.