Friday, September 4, 2015

Suffering the film Suffragette

I'm a nervous wreck from watching the new film Suffragette at the Telluride Film Festival.

Tonight was the world premiere.  Director Sarah Gavron introduced the film and her producers Allison Owen and Faye Ward--and Meryl Streep, whom she chose to play Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the British movement for women's right to vote.

This film has all the violence of ten years of militant suffragist efforts packed into less than two hours.

It's not a documentary.  It's a gutter-level depiction of demonstrations, riots, police brutality, workplace violence and sexual harassment, force-feeding, marital violence (mostly off-scene), and suicide.  

I guess it was made for the generation that likes action films and street chases.  At times, it's almost a Bruce Lee kind of film.  Repeatedly I cringed to cover my ears and eyes.

Yes, Carey Mulligan was very good as Maud Watts, the young laundry worker who loses her marriage and her son when she is repeatedly jailed after being drawn into the movement.  Her conversion is believable when we learn about the years of sexual abuse she has endured from her employer.  Screenwriter Abi Morgan built a credible fiction around Maud and the historical characters.

Ben Whishaw convincingly portrays Maud's husband, a loving man who nevertheless can't abide a wife turned activist and turns her out, denying access to her son.

Meryl Streep was very elegant as Pankhurst, but it was impossible to forget who she is and believe in her as the character.  Sadly, an actor can be so famous that she can't become anyone but herself.  


The politically correct term for these activists is suffragist.  The diminutive "-ette" has been dropped by the women's movement.  Someone probably decided he or she could draw more viewers with the outdated term or perhaps wanted to keep the historically derogatory implications of suffragette.

Further footnotes:  

It was a rainy day and evening.  Because I did not buy a pass to the whole festival, I had to sit under an awning for two hours in hopes of being allowed to buy a ticket after the passholders entered the Werner Herzog Theatre.  

My two dogs ran in circles through the crowd as I waited, and finally I walked them to the car in the rain so I could enter the venue.  Optimistically, I had not brought a rain jacket or umbrella.

When I found a seat, I sat down soaked and chilled, thinking that the $30 ticket and the hours of waiting in the rain were not worth it, however good the film might be.

Within ten minutes I changed my mind, however.  Maud Watts's testimony before Prime Minister David Lloyd George and Parliament brought tears to my eyes.

Mulligans' words and acting were very moving, as was Anne-Marie Duff in portraying Violet Miller, the woman prevented from testifying by her black eye and bleeding face, inflicted by her husband the previous night.

Also memorable were Streep's words as Pankhurst: "I incite this meeting and all the women in Britain to rebellion.  I would rather be a rebel than a slave!"

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