Review: Suffragette at the British Film Festival

‘Suffragette’ is currently playing as part of a fine programme of British movies at the BBC First British Film Festival across Australia. Bobby Townsend checked it out in Brisbane:

Starring the ace Carey Mulligan, Suffragette tells the story of the foot-soldiers of the early feminist movement. Fighting for the right to vote, women from across all social classes created civil unrest in order to get their voices heard, after years of peaceful protest fell on deaf ears.

Mulligan plays Maud, a working class wife, mother and worker who stumbles upon the Suffragette movement by accident and soon becomes a pivotal member of the group. Helena Bonham Carter is the lynchpin, organising protests which grow in size and impact, while Brendan Gleeson is the no-nonsense policeman brought in to put a stop to them.

The narrative is engaging throughout and Mulligan is simply brilliant. Everything from her accent to her descent into increasing turmoil is perfectly delivered. The narrative too, gives a decent potted overview of the incredible struggle and terrible oppression that these women faced. Gleeson is superb as well. A representation of the patriarchal society at the time, his gradual and slight change in attitude as the story progresses mirrors those of a male dominated Britain.

Fundamentally though, the movie suffers slightly from the fact that it revolves largely around fictitious figures while real-life people play smaller roles. Mulligan, Gleeson and Bonham Carter’s characters never really existed, but Natalie Press’ character – Emily Davison – did. Anyone that knows the true story of the Suffragettes will understand exactly how important she was and, while the film’s denouement pays fitting tribute to her, I left the screening wishing I’d learned a lot more about her.

Pride did a similar thing last year – namely introduce a fictitious protagonist as a way of bringing the viewer into the heart of the story – but it worked much better than it does here because pretty much every other character in that film was based fairly closely on real-life people.

Meryl Streep fans might be disappointed too. She plays the iconic Emmeline Pankhurst but her screen time is so brief that, if you blink, you’ll miss her.

That said, the film was unquestionably gripping and moving and definitely an enthralling, informative and worthwhile watch, largely due to the fact that Mulligan is so believable. Her struggle is heartbreaking.

The film played to a sold-out crowd in the Palace Barracks in Brisbane. Some of the ladies in attendance were dressed as Suffragettes, complete with banners and medals. Suffragette is a good example of the kind of entertaining and thought-provoking movie that the BBC First British Film Festival offers. If you get the chance to check out a screening before it wraps up next week, you really should.

The BBC First British Film Festival continues across Australia until the 18th November. Go here for schedules and venues.

Suffragette is released in Australia on Boxing Day and is already out in Europe. 

bobby townsend


Review by Bobby Townsend.