Price to pay for vote

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - WEEK IN MOVIES - Leigh Paatsch

SUF­FRAGETTE (M)

Di­rec­tor: Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane) Star­ring: Carey Mul­li­gan, Meryl Streep, Ben Whishaw, Anne-Marie Duff, Helena Bon­ham Carter, Bren­dan Glee­son Ver­dict: How to beat the sys­tem when the sys­tem has you beaten

AT once dour yet in­spir­ing, this ar­rest­ing pe­riod drama iso­lates a cru­cial point in time for an im­por­tant move­ment that fought hard to se­cure the right to vote for the women of Great Bri­tain.

Sure, Suf­fragette is hardly made of the stuff that forms queues and flogs tick­ets in this sum­mer of Star Wars. Nev­er­the­less, its ex­pert fus­ing of the po­lit­i­cal and the per­sonal is­sues that mo­ti­vated th­ese pi­o­neer­ing pro­test­ers can’t be faulted.

Work­ing from a no-non­sense, well­re­searched screen­play by script­ing ace Abi Mor­gan (Shame, The Iron Lady), fil­ters the harsh re­al­i­ties of life on the front lines of this land­mark bat­tle for equal­ity through a sin­gle fic­tional char­ac­ter.

In the year 1912, Maud (played by Carey Mul­li­gan) is a young work­ing wife and mother al­ready de­spair­ing that her des­tiny has gone down a dead-end.

The shabby con­di­tions of her work­place at a lowly Lon­don laun­dry ser­vice are wors­ened im­mea­sur­ably by the seedy boss of the es­tab­lish­ment, a sex­ual preda­tor con­tin­u­ally ha­rass­ing his fe­male employees in the full knowl­edge he will get away with it.

Maud’s hus­band Sonny (Ben Whishaw) is a de­cent man. How­ever, his abid­ing phi­los­o­phy when it comes to his wife’s trou­bles is a shrug­ging “that’s just the way it is”.

Not sur­pris­ingly, some­thing has got to give for Maud, or she will have no choice but to give up. So when a new wave of ac­tiv­ity by Suf­fragette women around Lon­don breaks out, Maud ten­ta­tively de­cides to go with the flow.

A trans­for­ma­tive spark catches alight in Maud over time, as she ex­pe­ri­ences first-hand the ex­tra­or­di­nary lengths the Suf­fragettes must go to for their col­lec­tive voice to be heard.

The film really comes into its own when it rams home to the viewer the daunt­ing risks that came with a com­mit­ment to what was very much an un­pop­u­lar, out­law cause at the time.

Jobs were on the line. Jail time was a near-cer­tainty. Re­peat of­fend­ers could lose their chil­dren, and worse.

With a del­i­cately nu­anced per­for­mance from Mul­li­gan (con­tin­u­ing her fine form from the re­cent Far From the Madding Crowd) as its cen­tre point, Suf­fragette is able to cap­ture a lot of nar­ra­tive ground in a rel­a­tively short time.

Ex­cel­lent sup­port­ing con­tri­bu­tions from the likes of Meryl Streep (used spar­ingly, but pow­er­fully as fa­mous Suf­fragette spear­head Em­me­line Pankhurst), Helena Bon­ham Carter (as a rad­i­calised woman of learn­ing) and Anne-Marie Duff (a con­flicted fel­low em­ployee of Maud) fur­ther en­hance the film’s clear vi­sion and time­less rel­e­vance.

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