When I heard that a movie about suffragettes was in the make, I was more than thrilled, as movies dedicated to anything even remotely related to feminism are not something you see often, especially on a scale that would include Meryl Streep and Carey Mulligan. It was one of the most anticipated movies of the year for me, but when I finally got round to watch it a couple of days ago, I was rather disappointed.
It may be because I had such high expectations, but I found it to be one of those movies that actually tell the audience what they should think about it while they are watching it. I am not a lover of overly explicit books or movies. I think it’s patronizing to offer viewers/readers the moral of the story on a silver platter, as they would somehow be incapable of reaching the conclusion themselves. It’s actually a bit ridiculous to watch a movie with great story and impeccable acting and not like it because the person who wrote the script decided to put things in the character’s mouths that made them sound like Captain Obvious. Moreover, casting Meryl Streep was obviously a mistake, as you wait for her to appear for half of the movie, only to see her for two minutes. It was an unwanted distraction from the main characters, as she’s on the poster and in the trailer, so viewers are somehow duped into thinking she’s in the whole movie.
“Suffragette” depicts the complex political situation surrounding the women’s votes only sparsely, focusing instead on Maud Watts’s drama that intertwines with the movement. Failing to be incisive, the movie is filled with violent scenes, such as that of feeding the suffragettes forcefully through a tube in their nose when they decided to go on hunger strike and the shocking sacrifice of Emily Davison, which not many people actually know about. A great deal of screentime is given to the abuse women were suffering in the workplace, perhaps to draw attention to a problem that is still rampant. (Speaking of attention – whoever decided to shoot this with a hand-held camera was not on their brightest day – the movement distracts a lot from the action to the point that you get annoyed and slightly nauseated.)
I feel that a great chance was missed with this movie. On one hand, it only scratched the surface of what the suffragette movement mean, and on the other hand, it made a disservice to modern feminism. If you were a person that doesn’t know a thing about feminism or is even against it, “Suffragette” will give you enough reasons to happily continue to think that feminism is something that mainly has to do with women’s emotions than with their desire and capacity to be equal members of society in all of its aspects. If you are a feminist, it is impossible not to be outraged at the way women were treated merely a century ago, as the movie vividly depicts the humiliation, manipulation and violence women were subjected to daily, but you’ll also feel that this is simply a politically correct movie, when it could have been so much more.
I expected “Suffragette” to be a groundbreaking movie, but instead, it was a safe and conventional depiction of one of the bravest acts of fighting for freedom in history. It should have covered more of the feminist movement and been less about “oh, look at how we suffered, let’s all behave and be politically correct from now on.” It should not have been afraid to portrait men as the real culprits instead of deliberating shifting the blame on the “system.” It was not the “system” who made women second-class citizens, it was men, and the movie fails to transmit this clearly. Unfortunately, we still live in a world where a man’s opinion is often heavier than a woman’s and I guess those who made this movie wanted to play it safe. A chance was sadly lost, as it will be years until another movie about the suffragettes is made, and until then, feminism is left with a movie with a poignant title but poor execution.