Suffragette could have been much better. The compelling emotional drama uses history as scenery.
The newly released movie, Suffragette, is sure to ignite some controversies. It already has when many groups disliked the public display by the key actresses when they wore a quote from the activist leader, Emmeline Pankhurst (very briefly played by Meryl Streep) placed on tee shirts—“I’D RATHER BE A REBEL THAN A SLAVE.”
The movie portrays the rapid radicalization of a working class woman, and her increasing participation and eventual advocacy of the Suffragette movement in England. One of my issues with the film is that it uses history the way a set designer would use a scrim and slide projector in a low budget production. It is there, sort of, but only as background.
Perhaps the most egregious omission was limiting the screen time of Meryl Streep to 1:48 seconds in an under 4:00 minute scene. To me this is a great affront, denying audiences the performance of one of our greatest actresses, Ms. Streep, and denying any in-depth insight into Emmeline Pankhurst. Once again treating the history as minor scenery.
There were so many missed opportunities to have a few or even one dialogue line, or a brief scene to relay the actual historical facts, which are even more compelling and dramatic than any film writer could make up.
Examples are plentiful. In the first Suffragette hunger strike, Marion Wallace Dunlop protested being placed in 2nd and 3rd Divisions with violent criminals, instead of the 1st Division for the non-violent, including political prisoners. This hunger strike forced Home Secretary Herbert Gladstone to release Dunlop—a clear victory for the Suffragettes. Also lost was a fun cameo opportunity to portray young Winston Churchill, who as Home Secretary changed the guidelines for prisons to afford Suffragettes placed in violent criminal divisions some of the rights and privileges of inmates in the non-violent divisions.
If, like most of the people who will flock to see Suffragette, you know little about the actual history, then the film is likely to create emotional responses that are both moving and unsettling. The acting is stellar and the script quite good.
For me as a Guy Feminist dedicated to bringing the HERtory of women to public awareness, anything that communicates the historical and current objectification, subjugation, inequality, and discrimination of women is a valuable endeavor.
Suffragette is an effective drama about a single woman and her “sisters.” The movie deals subtly, tenderly and compassionately with horrific themes, such as child sexual abuse, economic slavery, corruption of authority, and violence to women. For this I admire and applaud the film.
Suffragette could have been much better with a little more exposition of the history.
What do you think?